On 8 January, Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik kicked off the European Year of Air as part of a conference 'Blowing the winds of change into European air policy', which was organised in Brussels by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Soot Free for Climate. The commissioner noted that this conference was the first in a series of events and actions that would lead, in the autumn of 2013, to the publication of a European Commission communication on the revision of the EU policy on air quality.

A Eurobarometer survey published by the Commission (see box) shows that European citizens are concerned about air quality. And rightly so, the EEB said in its keynote speech. Indeed, current EU standards for ambient air quality are lower than World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. The EEB gave the example of the standards for the authorised concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5): 25[micro]g/m[sup.3] - ie standards that are 2.5 times lower than those set by the WHO and which will only become fully applicable in the EU in 2015. By contrast, the standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) impose a yearly limit of 12[micro]g/m[sup.3]. What is more, even though they are very low, some of the European standards established more than ten years ago are still not being respected by the member states.

Commissioner Potocnik concurred, stressing that air quality "is one of a few areas where we have seen an absolute decoupling between economic growth and emissions". Regardless, it is clear that the EU is far from having attained its targets for air quality devoid of negative impact on health and environment. According to the latest estimates, some 420,000 premature deaths were caused by air pollution in the EU in 2010.

"We have to recognise that some of the EU air quality standards that were established in the late nineties are not being respected. And this is in spite of the extra time and flexibility that member states have had to implement the standards," Potocnik said. He outlined five main reasons for this situation: 1. inadequate governance (decisions taken at local and/or regional level while often pollution sources are outside of the area in question); 2. the persistence of trans-boundary pollution (in many countries less than 50% of the observed PM2.5 concentrations derive from their own emissions), which is why the commissioner called for a limit on emissions both in the EU and at international level; 3...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT