Europe ‘some way off’ achieving air quality goal

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik tells Congress in Rotterdam about measures being taken to tackle air pollution, writes Caelia Quinault.

European member states have made significant progress in recent years in reducing air pollution, according to EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik.

But, they are still some way from achieving the European Commission’s objective of seeing no significant impact of air pollution on human health or the environment.

Janez Potočnik said that 2013 is going to be the ‘Year of Air’ in Europe

Mr Potočnik’s comments came at the Congress of European Advisory Council on Transport and Environment in Rotterdam yesterday (October 11), at which he discussed the need for a shift towards a more sustainable transport system.

On the subject of air quality, he said the use of cleaner fuels by ships and the use of shore side electricity while at berth were among a number of ‘incremental’ steps introduced recently by the EU which would improve air quality.

But, despite these achievements, he said there would still be over 200,000 premature deaths every year due to air pollution in 2020.

He said: “We are still some way from achieving our objective of no significant negative impacts of air pollution on human health and the environment.

“This is why, I have launched a comprehensive review of the EU air legislation and declared 2013 the European “Year of Air”. The objective is to close existing gaps in our legislation and to raise awareness on the importance of our daily choices, in particular in relation to transport, and the impact these have on our health and well-being.”


Mr Potočnik went on to outline a number of ways in which the Commission will drive improvements in air quality. These include:

  • Working with the World Health Organisation to review the latest scientific evidence on the health impacts of all pollutants regulated under EU legislation, along with an evaluation of emerging risks to health from air pollution.
  • Ensuring that EU legislation is fully implemented and that Member States respect the limit values for Particulate Matter, Nitrogen Dioxide and other pollutants while at the same time, helping regions and cities in developing air quality plans by spreading best practice.
  • Encouraging innovation and addressing emissions at source, including cutting emissions from vehicles through Euro standards and in particular the new Euro 6 standards which enter into force in 2014.

Responding to those who might claim that air pollution measures are too costly in times of economic hardship, Mr Potočnik insisted that air pollution imposes much greater costs on the economy — estimated at between €189 – €609 billion (£152-491 billion) a year in 2020.

He added that tackling air quality would in fact give European member states a competitive edge in the emerging world market for air quality products.

He said: “Those who argue that it would be too costly are on weak ground even from a strict competiveness perspective. Let us put aside all the health and environmental benefits for a moment —important as they are — and look instead at the economic arguments: Let’s take the US and China as examples.

“We know that the US air quality legislation and transport emission limits are among the most stringent in the world — with California leading the way. We also know that China is now stepping up its air quality monitoring requirements and emission controls significantly. And we know that other emerging economies will follow suit. This will create an enormous demand for products and industrial processes that emit less. So a strengthened air quality and sustainable transport regime in the EU will actually benefit European competitiveness by giving us a lead in these growing markets. Sustainable mobility is therefore not only an environmental objective, but also an economic opportunity.”


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