Call for action on air quality under EU Irish Presidency

The European Environment Bureau urges the EU to “firmly reject” calls for any weakening in air quality limits in a memorandum issued this week

The EU must “firmly reject” any calls for weakened or more flexible air quality limits under its current Irish presidency, according to the European Environment Bureau (EEB).

In a memorandum to the new Irish presidency published online this week calling for action on a variety of environmental issues, the EEB said that current EU limits are “insufficient to protect people’s health”.

EEB secretary general Jeremy Wates speaking at the launch of the EU 'Year of Air' earlier in January (© European Union 2013)

EEB secretary general Jeremy Wates speaking at the launch of the EU ‘Year of Air’ earlier in January (© European Union 2013)

The EEB, an NGO representing around 140 environmental citizens’ organisations in EU member states, also called for stricter EU emissions limits, which it said would save member states money and improve quality of life.

Ireland will hold the presidency of the EU for the first six months of 2013, which has been labelled the ‘Year of Air’ with a wide-ranging review of Europe’s air quality policies due to report back in September (see story).

The memorandum to the presidency urges stricter source limits on emissions from specific sectors, including shipping, non-road mobile machinery (NRMM), road transport, agriculture and small scale combustion installations.

It states: “All those sectors show great potential for reduction which should be realised during the 2013 Year of Air. Source legislation in all those sectors would be the most cost-effective way of improving air quality and would help member states and local authorities to comply with ambient air quality standards (Directive 2008/50/EC).”

The memorandum sets out the EEB’s ’10 Green Tests’ for the Irish presidency, with ‘Support the development of an ambitious air package’ listed at number eight.

According to EEB secretary general Jeremy Wates: “This memorandum reflects the issues that the EEB would like to see advanced during the Irish presidency.”
He said: “These tests will be used to evaluate, at the end of June 2013, the performance of the Presidency in the six months to come.”

He added: “In the run-up to the Presidency, the Irish Government has demonstrated an open approach and a willingness to enter into dialogue with the EEB and its member organizations. We look forward to continuing this dialogue throughout the Presidency and beyond.”

As a result, according to the EEB, the Irish presidency has a “great opportunity to start discussions in the Council and with the European Commission which will lead to the adoption of a policy package that will allow Europe to achieve ‘levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on, and risks to human health and environment’ as foreseen in the 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution.”

‘Firmly reject weakening’

Several regional authorities in industrial areas in Europe have grouped together to form the Air Quality Initiative of Regions, which has come in for criticism from the likes of Clean Air London for supposedly seeking to “weaken” EU air quality laws.

However, the EEB memorandum states that the Irish presidency “…should firmly reject any call for weakening or “flexibility” with respect to existing ambient air quality limits which are set for the protection of human health.”

It adds: “It should on the contrary look for further tightening of existing standards for the years to come. In comparison with the WHO recommendations for ambient air quality, current EU limits are insufficient to protect people’s health, in particular when it comes to the concentrations of the smallest particles (PM2.5).

“The implementation of the WHO recommended limits for PM2.5 in 25 large European cities alone could provide savings of €31.5 billion annually, including savings on health expenditures, absenteeism and intangible costs such as well-being, life expectancy and quality of life.”

The memorandum to the Irish presidency of the EU is available on the EEB website.


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