Is law failing to address air pollution? Reflections on international and EU developments

Published date01 November 2017
AuthorSeita Romppanen,Yulia Yamineva
Date01 November 2017
Is law failing to address air pollution? Reflections on
international and EU developments
Yulia Yamineva
Seita Romppanen
Funding information
H2020 European Research Council, Grant/
Award Number: 678889
Air pollution is a majo r global environment al problem, with vari ous adverse
effects on health and the environment. This introductory article provides an
overview of related g lobal and regional leg al instruments. The art icle evaluates
the legal landscape in terms of its coverage, geographic scope and effectiveness,
and concludes that th e legal measures curre ntly in place fall far sh ort of provid-
ing an adequate respons e to the problem of air pollut ion. Thus, there is a clear
need to strengthen global and regional cooperation to improve air quality. Such
cooperation is lik ely to take non-bindin g and flexible forms an d involve both
wider participati on among States and broa der engagement of vari ous stakehold-
ers. The informal cha racter of cooperatio n also makes it possible to experiment
with new governance ap proaches that are diff icult to implement with in the con-
text of traditional i nternational law.
The atmosphere needs protection in the face of air pollution, ozone
depletion and climate change. According to the World Health Organ-
ization (WHO), air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to
healthand a public health emergency,
responsible for millions of
premature deaths annually. Tackling air pollution also has co-benefits
for the climate and development issues such as urban sustainable
development and energy access.
Several international and r egional agreements aim to reduc e
emissions of air pollutants. Howeve r, the problems associated
with air pollution are far fr om being solved. The current le gal
and regulatory approach es to air pollution seem inad equate if the
negative impacts already w itnessed and the risks at stake are
considered. Effective a ir pollution laws and policies req uire
prompt action and cooperati on at global, regional and nation al
levels, reaching across most e conomic sectors
and engag-
ing the public.
It is this apparent disconne ct between the state
of the complex problem and t he law as well as the urgency of
the need to address it
that motivated us to prepare this
RECIEL special issue.
The aims of this introductory article are threefold. First, the art-
icle seeks to provide an overview of existing global and regional legal
instruments for atmospheric protection, with a specific focus on air
pollution and ozone depletion.
Second, it aims to assess the current
state of regulatory approaches to air pollution in terms of their
coverage, geographic scope and effectiveness. Third, the article
seeks to reflect on the future of global cooperation in this important
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
©2017 The Authors. Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
World Health Organization (WHO), Ambient Air Pollution: A Global Assessment of Expos-
ure and Burden of Disease(WHO 2016) 11.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), The Economic Conse-
quences of Air Pollution (OECD 2016) 1820.
European Environmental Agency (EEA), Air Quality in Europe 2016 Report, EEA Report
No 28/2016 (EEA 2016) 6.
See, for instance, the BreatheLife campaign, which is a global joint campaign led by the
WHO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Climate and Clean Air
Coalition (CCAC) to mobilize immediate action to tackle air pollution: <http://breathelife>.
For an overview of developments in this area, see MW Roberts, Finishing the Job: The
Montreal Protocol Moves to Phase Down Hydrofluorocarbons(2017) 26 Review of Euro-
pean, Comparative and International Environmental Law 220.
DOI: 10.1111/reel.12223
RECIEL. 2017;26:189200.

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