A new policy package to clean up Europe’s air was adopted yesterday. The human toll for poor air quality is worse than for road traffic accidents, making it the numbers one environmental cause of premature death in the EU.
It also impacts the quality of life due to asthma or respiratory problems. The Commission is responding with new measures to reduce air pollution.
The clean air policy package updates existing legislation and further reduces harmful emissions form industry, traffic, energy plants and agriculture, with a view to reducing their impact on human health and the environment. Air pollution causes also lost working days, and high healthcare costs, with vulnerable groups such as children, asthmatics and the elderly the worst affected. It also damages ecosystems through excess nitrogen pollution and acid rain. The direct costs to society from air pollution, including damage to crops and buildings, amount to about €23 billion per year. The benefits to people’s health from implementing the package are around €40 billion a year, over 12 times the costs of pollution abatement, which are estimated to reach €3.4 billion per year in 2030.
The package adopted has a number of components:
- New Clean Air Programme for Europe with measures to ensure that existing targets are met in the short term, and new air quality objectives for the period up to 2030.
- A revised National Emission Ceilings Directive with stricter national emission ceilings for the six main pollutants
- A proposal for a new Directive to reduce pollution form medium-sized combustion installations, such as energy plants for street blocks or large buildings, and small industry installations.
By 2030, and compared to business as usual, the clean air policy package is estimated to:
- Avoid 58 000 premature deaths,
- Save 123 000 km2 of ecosystem form nitrogen pollution
- Save 56 000 km2 protected Natura 2000 areas form nitrogen pollution,
- Save 19 000 km2 forest ecosystem from acidification.
Health benefits alone will save society €40-140 billion in external costs and provide about €3 billion in direct benefits due to higher productivity of the workforce, lower healthcare costs, higher crop yields and less damage to buildings. The proposal will also add the equivalent of around 100 000 additional jobs due to increased productivity and competitiveness because of fewer workdays lost. It is estimated to have a positive net impact on economic growth.
The proposal is based on the conclusions of a comprehensive review of existing EU air policy. It comes after extensive consultations that found broad support for EU-wide action in this area.