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EU Policy. Parliament backs stricter limits for air pollutants, better monitoring

Kim Hansen / Wikimedia
Kim Hansen / Wikimedia Copyright Kim Hansen (Wikimedia Commons User:Slaunger)/Kim Hansen (Wikimedia Commons User:Slaunger)
Copyright Kim Hansen (Wikimedia Commons User:Slaunger)/Kim Hansen (Wikimedia Commons User:Slaunger)
By Marta Pacheco
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Law under negotiation between the co-legislators since 2022 hopes to deliver cleaner air across EU cities but still needs to be approved by the EU Council.

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EU residents are set to benefit from cleaner air in the years to come after lawmakers in the European Parliament voted today (April 24) to introduce stricter standards to measure air pollutants and improved monitoring, revising the bloc’s clean air standards of 2008.

Lawmakers backed the Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD), proposed in 2022 by the European Commission, with 381 votes in favour and 225 against, during the last plenary session of this EU mandate.

The new rules introduce a zero-pollution goal for 2050 and air quality standards for 2030 that are closer – but not in line with – World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. With the new law, the EU executive will be tasked to conduct a review every five years in order to fully align it with WHO standards.

Once adopted by the EU Council, the rules will set stricter 2030 limits and target values for pollutants with a severe impact on human health, including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. EU countries can request a postponement to the 2030 deadline by up to ten years, if specific conditions are met — a condition introduced by the EU Council during the inter-institutional negotiations.

“These flexibilities can only be used with safeguards together with local authorities,” lawmaker Javi López (Spain/S&D), leading the file in Parliament, told reporters.

In case of non-compliance by EU countries, those affected by air pollution will be able to take legal action, and citizens may receive compensation if their health has been damaged, according to the law, which acknowledges air pollution currently impacts 300,000 premature deaths in Europe.

“We introduced standards and improved monitoring. We have a law about the enforcement but every member state and local or regional authority can decide the kind of policy mix they do to move on this direction,” said López.

López explained the law introduces a list of policies aligned with the goals of achieving cleaner air, including the electrification of vehicles, the expansion of bike lanes and low emission zones.

Anne Stauffer, deputy director at the NGO Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) welcomed MEPs’ commitment to cleaning up air for hundreds of millions of people across the EU.

“Now the confirmation of the AAQD package by member states should follow swiftly, so that we can all start profiting from the numerous health benefits the new law will bring, and to prevent further harm to health,” Stauffer said.

Xavier Brenez, CEO of the Belgian Independent Health Insurance Funds said reaching the WHO standards for particle pollution would save €43m in healthcare costs annually from saved general practitioners visits alone.

The law backed in the Parliament today still needs to be formally adopted by the EU Council before entering into force.

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