• Clean Air strategy is finally published, though weakened

    The Clean Air for Europe (Cafe) initiative has finally been published, but with the environment commissioner admitting it has been watered down following protests from industry.


    The Café initiative, the first of seven “thematic strategies” that will make up the EU’s sixth environmental action programme, should have appeared in July. But strong objections to the draft strategy – in particular its expected €12 billion implementation costs – led to a delay, and for a while even some doubts as to whether it would ever be published.

    In that context, the fact that it was published last month, with implementation costs now put at €7.1bn, is an achievement for the environment commissioner Stavros Dimas. But he has admitted the level of ambition has had to be lowered following industry protests, and that has angered environmental campaigners who felt the first draft was already too weak.

    T&E issued a statement saying: “Other than the fact that it has finally been published, there is unfortunately little to welcome here. In the field of transport it is not a strategy – it is a collection of restatements of existing policies and some weak promises. Now is not the time to ‘investigate the feasibility of’ or to hear that the Commission ‘intends to’ do things. It is time for real action.”

    The strategy’s advocates still claim it can reduce premature deaths caused by pollution from the 2000 figure of 370 000 a year to 230 000 by 2020. But by reducing the emissions ceilings for nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and ammonia, and removing the legal need for action on ultra-fine particles, the targets have become more modest.

    “It is a compromise,” Dimas said. “I tried very hard to bring the benefits to the fore in the discussion … but we had to further decrease our level of ambition.” And some EU government representatives are said to want to re-open the debate on the level of ambition.

    Industry groups acknowledged that concessions had been made, but said that the costs were still high. A spokeswoman for Unice, the industries federation which led protests over the initial draft, said: “This is a real improvement [over earlier drafts], but the level is still ambitious.” And the oil industry group Europia said the ambition level remained “steep”.

    But Dings added: “What is more worrying is that the concrete measures linked to the ‘strategy’, like Euro-5 emissions standards for cars, also look terribly weak. The Commission is listening only to certain lowest-common-denominator industry groups and ignoring the potential of innovative companies to do more.”

    The strategy’s concentration on ultra-fine particles (PM2.5) has been criticised by Dutch and Swedish researchers in an article in European Respiratory Journal . They say tightening controls on PM2.5 is good, but the decision to leave limits on PM10 particles unaltered overlooks the significant health risks caused by PM10.

    This news story is taken from the October 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.