Today, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) paved the way towards better air quality, but unfortunately did not commit to WHO air quality guidelines by 2030, instead delaying until 2035.
Every year, air pollution in the EU causes 300,000 premature deaths. It is also responsible for over 1,200 premature deaths annually among those aged 18 or younger (in the 32 EEA member countries).
Margherita Tolotto, Policy Manager for Air and Noise at the EEB, said: “This delay of WHO alignment to 2035 will have serious implications for the health of all Europeans. It will also affect our economies and will most likely be used as an excuse to postpone the urgent action needed.”“Air quality, health and environmental protection do not have any political colour. Despite the delay, we acknowledge the effort made by a good group of MEPs in deciding to not follow the line of their political group – and instead contributing to the health of their citizens.”
Dr. Ebba Malmqvist, Air Pollution & Climate Secretariat (AirClim), said: “You need to breathe and children need to breathe. In a modern society, this should not be done with the risk of inhaling toxic air and developing asthma and cancer. It should be a relic from the past that polluting industries continue their delay game to reap profit while tax-payers pay the health costs.”
Prof. Zorana Jovanovic Andersen, Chair of the Environment and Health Committee of ERS, said: “Air pollution poses a major threat to health in Europe, and lung patients are the most vulnerable. Today is a missed opportunity to take into account the overwhelming evidence on the adverse health effects of air pollution, save lives and prevent chronic and infectious respiratory disease.”
Zachary Azdad, Vehicles Policy Officer at Transport & Environment, said: “While it is a step in the right direction, delaying alignment with the WHO will cost lives because of years of avoidable air pollution. Today’s vote will do little to accelerate the roll-out of low- and zero-emission zones in Europe, throwing a lifeline to dirty diesel and petrol cars.”
Emma Bud, lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “Across the EU, citizens are crying out for their governments to protect them from harmful levels of air pollution. At least, it’s great to see the European Parliament giving them the legal tools they need to better protect their health. It’s democracy in action.”
In addition to the missed chance to align with WHO standards sooner, there is also a concern that time is running out for co-legislators to find a deal and finalise the legislation before April next year.
Its now incumbent on national governments in the Council to agree on their position as soon as possible to ensure that trilogues can begin before the end of the year resulting in a fully scientifically-backed legislation on air quality, which also allows citizens to ask for its effective implementation and enforcement.
The Ambient Air Quality Directives (AAQD) are a cornerstone of European Union legislation aimed at regulating and improving air quality across Member States. Its primary objective is to protect human health and the environment by setting specific air quality standards and emission limits for various air pollutants, including particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), lead (Pb), benzene, and ozone (O3).