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EU reaches provisional agreement on tighter air quality limits

Negotiators from the European Parliament and the EU Council yesterday reached a provisional agreement on new rules to tighten air quality standards across Europe.

The headline figures are the proposed new limits on PMs and NO2:

For PM2.5 , the annual limit value is to be more than halved from 25 µg/m³ to 10 µg/m³.

For NO2, the limit value will come down from 40 µg/m³ to 20 µg/m³.

Other substances covered by the revised directive include sulphur dioxide (SO2), benzo(a)pyrene, arsenic, lead and nickel, with specific standards being set for each one of them.

These air quality standards will be reviewed in 2030 and then at least every five years after that.

Member states will be able to request a postponement of the deadline for meeting the new standards if:

  1. compliance would prove unachievable due to specific climatic conditions or where the necessary reductions can only be achieved with significant impact on existing domestic heating systems (postponement would be until 2040)
  2. projections show that the limit values cannot be achieved by the attainment deadline (postponement would be until 2035)

All member states will have to create air quality roadmaps by the end of 2028, setting out short- and long-term measures to comply with the new 2030 limit values.

In cases where there is no realistic potential to reduce ozone concentrations, member states will be exempt from establishing air quality plans, once they have submitted a detailed justification for such an exemption.

There is also a provision to establish a right to compensation for those affected by ‘an intentional or negligent violation of the national rules transposing certain provisions of the directive.’ Under these rules citizens would be entitled to claim compensation where damage to their health has occurred.

Similarly there is provision to ensure access to justice for bodies such as public health and environmental NGOs  who want to challenge the implementation of any air quality measures. Any such procedure, should be: ‘fair, timely and not prohibitively expensive, and practical information on this procedure should be made publicly available.’

The requirement for member states to penalise infringement of any air quality measures has also been clarified and expanded, with a demand for ‘effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties’ that take into account the severity and duration of the infringement, whether it is recurrent, and the individuals and environment affected by it, as well as any economic benefits derived from the infringement.

After the deal was reached, rapporteur Javi López said: ‘Today’s agreement is a major step in our ongoing efforts to ensure a cleaner and healthier future for all Europeans. Parliament has played a crucial role in revising the outdated EU air quality standards, some of which were 15 to 20 years old, focusing on improved air quality monitoring near major pollution sources, protecting sensitive and vulnerable populations more robustly, and ensuring local authorities have the support they need to enforce the new standards effectively.’

Alain Maron (above), minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, responsible for climate change, environment, energy and participatory democracy added: ‘For the EU, the health of its citizens is a priority. This is what we have demonstrated today with this crucial agreement that will contribute to achieve the EU’s zero-pollution ambition by 2050. The new rules will drastically improve the quality of the air we breathe and help us effectively tackle air pollution, thus reducing premature deaths and health related risks.’

The deal still has to be adopted by Parliament and Council, after which the new law will be published in the EU Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later. EU countries will then have two years to apply the new rules.


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