Air pollution

Air is essential for life but polluted air can kill. In spite of the existing legislation, air pollution remains one of the major environmental problems in Europe. In order to protect its citizens and its environment, Europe needs strict and enforced air pollution legislation. Sector-specific legislation, such as for road vehicles (cars, vans and trucks), diesel machinery (construction machinery, inland water vessels and locomotives) and seagoing ships, is key to achieving clean air in Europe. The EU urgently needs to tighten and improve enforcement of its road, diesel machine and ship emissions legislation.

What’s happening?

In the EU 100 million sick days and more than 400,000 premature deaths can be attributed every year to air pollution. The health cost of air pollution is estimated at €766 billion per year in the European Union. In addition, air pollution also causes the reduction of agricultural yields, irreversible damage to ecosystems and loss of biodiversity as well as degradation of historical buildings and monuments.

Europe’s current air quality policy has failed to fully deliver the expected benefits in terms of reduction of pollutants emissions, and therefore protection of European citizen’s health and the environment. This is so because emissions limits are not being respected in real life as the Dieselgate scandal clearly showed, because of the lack of law enforcement and because legislation is not strict enough to protect human health. Real-life passenger car emissions by far exceed the allowed emissions limits, which are only respected during the outdated test cycle in the laboratory. The European legislation on diesel machinery is extremely lax compared to the road vehicles emissions legislation. International standards for nitrogen dioxide (NOx) emissions from ships have not been transposed into EU law.

What’s more, new WHO evidence shows that the effects of air pollutants are much worse than originally thought, which makes stricter legislation even more necessary. And the most recent analysis from the European Environmental Agency puts a premature death toll from NO2 exceedances in Europe - toxic gas emitted mainly by diesel fumes - at 71,000 annually.

Europe must be ambitious and make sure that cars, vans, trucks, trains, planes, ships and construction machines are as clean as possible, not only during type approval, but also in real life. The newly developed Real-world Driving Emissions (RDE) test should be strengthened and used for all compliance in the future.

First and foremost, Europe needs a complete revamp of its testing system (type approval framework) to ensure independent and rigorous checks through vehicles’ lifecycles. T&E also wants the EU to strengthen its Euro standards for air pollutants (future Euro 7/VII) with the WHO guidelines in a technology-neutral manner which doesn’t discriminate between fuels. It should also tighten further and ensure compliance with its legislation on diesel machinery and seagoing ships.

Transport & Environment is a member of the Life+ project Clean Air, a project by nine European environmental organisations that fight for clean air in European cities.

In addition, the Legal Clean Air project provides specific information about the litigation on air quality. You will find current proceedings against member states, completed or ongoing legal cases in connection with violations to the Air Quality Directive, and current developments related to the air pollution control measures.