‘Deficit’ between EU air policy and state compliance

Urgent action needed to improve implementation of EU air quality policy in European cities, according to environment commissioner Janez Potočnik

There is an “implementation deficit” between EU air policy and compliance by Member States that needs an “urgent” resolution, according to European environment commissioner Janez Potočnik.

Mr Potočnik’s comments came in response to a European Environment Agency (EEA) report launched last week (June 5) during EU Green Week 2013, which found there was ‘substantial potential’ for EU air policy to be more effectively implemented in urban areas.

The EEA headquarters in  Copenhagen, Denmark

The EEA headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark

The report, ‘Air Implementation Pilot — Lessons learnt from the implementation of air quality legislation at urban level’, calls for EU guidance to improve the quality of air pollution data in member states and for a Europe-wide, colour-coded index for air quality to help raise public awareness.

According to the EEA, almost three quarters of European citizens live in cities where air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and ozone remain above legal levels, despite some EU limits being in place for nearly 20 years.

In the UK a number of areas — including London — currently exceed EU limits for certain air pollutants, with the UK Supreme Court last month (May 1) ruling that the country was in breach of EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide in 16 of its 43 zones and referring the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (see story).

As a result of breaches in many European cities, the EEA report was launched to look at how European air policy could be more effectively put in place to reduce emissions.
The report focuses on the EEA’s 15-month Air Implementation Pilot, which started in March 2012 and consisted of several workshops and meetings held with representatives of the Commission, EEA and 12 European cities in order to better understand challenges that cities face in implementing air quality policy.

The report found that in the cities taking part in the pilot, more than 50% of the measures implemented to tackle air quality were traffic related, but that some cities ‘were uncertain about how to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures’ due to the complexity and expense of air quality modelling.

Commenting on the findings, Mr Potočnik, said: “We must resolve the implementation deficit urgently, to pave the way for deeper reductions in air pollution and its impacts on our lives. That is why I asked the EEA to set up the cities pilot, and the lessons learned will be taken up in the forthcoming review of EU air policy.”

The report also highlights the diversity of models used by cities to measure air pollution as well as the variety of different methodologies for compiling emission inventories that are sent to the EU.

As a result, the report recommends that more EU guidance is needed for member states compiling inventories as well as greater training in modelling in order to enhance understanding of air pollution in Europe.

Public awareness

With regards to raising public awareness of air pollution, the report states that cities ‘underuse’ mass media to raise public awareness of air quality and calls for a common Europe-wide index for air using the same colour-codes, which ‘would also help make air quality information comparable across Europe’.

It states: ‘There is thus room for cities to increase the presence of air quality issues in the media and for them to develop their smartphone and social media presences.’

The report adds that a ‘mature, reliable, and credible forecasting system’ is needed to further engage citizens, which can improved air quality modelling can help provide.

The report concludes: ‘The Air Implementation Pilot has demonstrated that there remains substantial potential for improving implementation at local and national level by among other things strengthening local air quality assessment capacity and management capacity.’

The 12 cities which participated in the Air Implementation Pilot project were: Antwerp (Belgium), Berlin (Germany), Dublin (Ireland), Madrid (Spain), Malmö (Sweden), Milan (Italy), Paris (France), Ploiesti (Romania), Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Prague (Czech Republic), Vienna (Austria), and Vilnius (Lithuania).

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director, said: “We are risking human health and the environment when clean air legislation is not fully implemented. The air pilot project demonstrates the potential for cities and European partners to build capacity and learn from each other in improving implementation.”


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