MEPs vote on tougher emission limits for air pollutants

MEPs voted in favour of a proposal to set tougher emission limits for key air pollutants at the European Parliament today (23 November).

The new Directive would set national targets to reduce emissions from five key air pollutants by 2030.

Julie Girling MEP

Julie Girling MEP

The plans for more ambitious national caps on pollutants, including NOx, particulates and sulphur dioxide, were already informally agreed with the European Council and received the support of the Health committee in July (see story), but the directive still had to be endorsed by the Environment Committee and Parliament as a whole.

The proposal was adopted today (23 November) with 499 votes in favour, 177 against, 28 abstentions. It now needs to be approved by the Council of Ministers, which includes government ministers from each member state, before it is transferred into law.

States are expected to confirm their agreement of the revised National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive before the end of 2016.

For the UK, the cap would amount to a 55% reduction in NOx and a 30% reduction in fine particulate matter (PM2,5) for any year between 2020 and 2029.

According to the European Parliament, close to half a million Europeans die every year from diseases linked to the millions of tons of gases and particulates human activity releases into the atmosphere. These range from sulphur dioxide that contributes to the acid rain that damages buildings and kills plants, to tiny particulate matter that can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Although emissions in most countries have significantly decreased over the last couple of decades, pollution is still responsible for more than 400,000 premature deaths in Europe each year.


As advocated by MEPs, the agreement includes wording reiterating the EU commitment to identifying and responding to source control legislation that is failing to work, as demonstrated by the discrepancy between real world emissions and NOx test emissions from EURO 6 diesel cars.

The guidance also specifies that each member state should “draw up, adopt and implement a national air pollution control programme with a view to complying with its emission reduction commitments.”

The Commission will also set up a European Clean Air Forum to provide input for guidance and facilitate the coordinated policy related to improving air quality, and exchange experience and good practices that can inform and enhance the national air pollution control programmes and their implementation.

UK ECR member Julie Girling is responsible for steering the proposal through Parliament.  “This is an urgent public health crisis and between 2020 and 2030 we will improve the health outcomes by 50%,” she said in July following the committee vote. “That means 200,000 people across Europe each year not losing their lives prematurely and that’s a huge impact.”

See below for more detail on the proposed targets to reduce emissions from five key air pollutants by 2030 compared to 2005:


Five air pollutants covered by the directive Main sources Effects Emission reductions targets by 2030 (compared to 2005)
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) Cars, trucks, power plants Respiratory diseases, contributes to particulate matter formation, acid rain, eutrophication -63%
Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) Coatings, paints, solvent use, chemical and food industries, printing Key component in the formation of ground-level or “bad” ozone that harms human lungs -40%
Ammonia (NH3) Agriculture: use of fertilisers, livestock farms Building block for particulate matter, contributes to acidification and eutrophication -19%
Sulphur dioxide (SO2) Heat and electricity generation, households Contributes to particulate matter formation and acid rain -79%
Fine particulate matter (tiny solid particles of up to 2.5 microns in diameter) From burning of coal and wood, from road transport, factories and power plants Can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer -49%


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