Cleaner Air
Credit: Melki

The human toll for poor air quality is worse than that for road traffic accidents – making it the number one environmental cause of premature death in the EU.

It also impacts the quality of life, due to asthma or respiratory problems. Thankfully, the European Commission is responding with new measures to reduce air pollution. The clean air policy package updates existing legislation and further reduces harmful emissions from industry, traffic, energy plants and agriculture, with a view to reducing their impact on human health and the environment.

Air pollution also causes lost working days, and high healthcare costs, with vulnerable groups such as children, asthmatics and the elderly being the worst affected. It also damages ecosystems through excess nitrogen pollution (eutrophication) and acid rain. The direct costs to society from air pollution, including damage to crops and buildings, amount to about €23 billion per year.

The benefits to people's health from implementing the package will be around €40 billion a year – that’s over 12 times the cost of pollution abatement, which is estimated to reach € 3.4 billion per year in 2030.

"The air we breathe today is much cleaner than in past decades,” said Environment Commissioner Janez PotoDnik . “But air pollution is still an 'invisible killer' and it prevents many people from living a fully active life.

“The actions we are proposing will halve the number of premature deaths from air pollution, increase protection for the vulnerable groups who need it most, and improve quality of life for all. It's also good news for nature and fragile ecosystems, and it will boost the clean technology industry – an important growth sector for Europe."

The package has a number of components, including:

* A new Clean Air Programme for Europe with measures to ensure that existing targets are met in the short term, and new air quality objectives for the period up to 2030. The package also includes support measures to help cut air pollution, with a focus on improving air quality in cities, supporting research and innovation, and promoting international cooperation;

* A revised National Emission Ceilings Directive with stricter national emission ceilings for the six main pollutants; and

* A proposal for a new Directive to reduce pollution from medium-sized combustion installations, such as energy plants for street blocks or large buildings, and small industry installations.

By 2030, and compared to business as usual, the clean air policy package is estimated to:

* Avoid 58,000 premature deaths;

* Save 123,000 square kilometres of ecosystems from nitrogen pollution (that’s more than half the area of Romania);

* Save 56,000 square kilometres protected Natura 2000 areas (that’s more than the entire area of Croatia) from nitrogen pollution; and

* Save 19,000 square kilometres of forest ecosystems from acidification.

Health Commissioner Tonio Borg concluded: “I wholeheartedly welcome the adoption of the clean air package which sets Europe on the right track to achieve clean air for all in the long term. The new air policy will translate into Europeans living healthier and longer lives: fewer children developing asthma or other respiratory problems, fewer people suffering from cancer, chronic respiratory diseases or cardiovascular diseases and finally fewer people dying from what air pollution does to health.”