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Air quality: MEPs approve new national caps on pollutants

EU Commission plans for more ambitious national caps on emissions of six key pollutants, including NOx, particulates and sulphur dioxide, were endorsed by Parliament on Wednesday. Air pollution causes about 400,000 premature deaths in the EU yearly, and the plans could save up to €40bn in air pollution costs by 2030.

“Air pollution imposes enormous human and economic costs. It also damages the natural environment, through eutrophication and acid deposition, and it doesn’t stop at EU member states’ borders”, said lead MEP Julie Girling (ECR, UK). Her report was approved by a show of hands.

“This legislation will help at all levels of governance in the member states, including the regional and sub-regional authorities who have engaged so vigorously in the process. There is a real bottom-up demand for action”, she added.

“My report also pushes the Commission to ensure that the Real Drive Emissions (RDE) procedure is agreed on as soon as possible. We all agree that NOx must be dealt with urgently. The public are demanding action in this area following the recent revelations on the car industry”, she concluded.

More ambitious caps

MEPs approved the proposed caps for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), methane (CH4) ammonia (NH3), and fine particulates (PM, less than 2.5 micrometers), to be achieved by 2020 and 2030, as proposed by the Commission.

MEPs want the future national emission ceiling (NEC) directive to contribute to the reduction of mercury emissions in the Union, but an impact assessment should be carried out before national emission reduction commitments are determined.

Car emissions

The Commission and the member should immediately agree on the new Real Driving Emissions (RDE) regulation proposal currently under consideration, to ensure that all EU-source-based air pollution policies are fit for purpose, say MEPs.

Tackling emissions from international shipping

MEPs also voted to remove a Commission proposal for flexibility to allow member states to offset reductions in emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and particulate matter from international shipping..

Instead, the Commission should consider measures to reduce emissions from international shipping, particularly in member states' territorial waters and exclusive economic zones, and, if appropriate, submit a legislative proposal to this end, MEPs say.

Next steps

MEPs will now enter into negotiations with the Council of Ministers with a view to reaching a first-reading agreement.

Note to editors

In 2010 air pollution caused over 400,000 premature deaths in the EU and over 62% of EU territory exposed to eutrophication, including 71% of Natura 2000 ecosystems. Its total external costs are in the range of €330-940bn per year, including direct economic damage of €15bn from lost workdays, €4bn healthcare costs, €3bn crop yield loss and €1bn damage to buildings (European Commission figures).

Non-compliance with existing air quality standards and the EU's new international obligations under the Gothenburg Protocol prevent better protection of EU citizens and their environment. Areas not in compliance with PM10 and NO2 standards amount to 32% and 24% of EU territory respectively, and 40m citizens are still exposed to PM10 levels above EU limit values.


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