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Remarks by Commissioner Sinkevičius, in charge of Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, at the Press Conference on the occasion of the launch of the EEA's ‘Air Quality in Europe - 2020 Report'

Remarks given by Commissioner Sinkevičius, in charge of Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, at the Press Conference on the occasion of the launch of the EEA's ‘Air Quality in Europe – 2020 Report'.

"Check against delivery"

Hello everyone and thank you for tuning in,

As my first point I would like to thank you Hans, and thanks to your colleagues in Copenhagen and across Europe for this 2020 Report on Air Quality. It's exactly the sort of high quality evidence we need to inform EU policy-making. 

There are things to welcome here. Air quality is improving across the EU thanks to the policies we have been implementing for the past decades. We came to a similar conclusion with the Fitness check of the Ambient Air Quality Directives last year, and in the next Clean Air Outlook report, that we'll publish shortly. It's clear that these policies deliver when they are fully implemented.

But we can't ignore the downside. The number of premature deaths in Europe due to air pollution is decreasing, but it is still far too high. And with close to 400 000 premature deaths each year in the EU linked to air pollution, we know that the cost to society is extremely high. Air pollution affects all of us, but especially the most vulnerable ones – older people, children and those with pre-existing health conditions. It also affects our everyday lives, our economies and our biodiversity.

The report is a useful reminder of the causes. In many regions, the way we source our energy and heat our homes still leads to pollution from particulate matters. In cities across the EU, our mobility and travel systems are still causing pollution from nitrogen dioxide. And the way we grow our food, especially in large scale farming activities, is leading to pollution from ammonia and fine particulate matter in the atmosphere, which ends up deep in our lungs.   

This is why, in the European Green Deal, we have set ourselves a Zero Pollution Ambition. Work has started on the Zero Pollution Action Plan for air, water and soil, and we launched a public consultation a few days ago. We're hoping for contributions from all interested sectors. That will help us identify the most effective solutions, put them forward and dramatically increase our efforts to cut pollution.

The Action Plan will include a drive to modernise the Ambient Air Quality Directive, and I hope to table the proposal in the second half of 2022.

There is plenty to do in the meantime. The current EU air quality standards are still exceeded far too often. So we will continue our resolute action to ensure full implementation of the existing legislation, with the full range of legal tools.

Solving the air quality challenge is not easy. It takes concerted action across sectors and across policies. It means getting everyone on board – citizens, entrepreneurs, researchers and policy-makers. And it means developing a new reflex – learning to ask a new question in transport, energy, industry, agriculture, and urban development. Asking – what does it mean for the air?

Here at the European Commission we have that question in mind in our policy-making. We fully understand the need for a zero pollution ambition for toxic-free environment, this is an important part of our efforts for climate neutrality and supporting competiveness and innovation. The European Green Deal is our compass for delivering this, together with our recovery plans that provide Member States the opportunities to start to build back better, with the ‘do no harm' principle embedded in that work.

Recent months have reminded us how important clean air is: Air pollution makes us more vulnerable to diseases. It makes so much sense to tackle this challenge decisively. And, with everyone's engagement, we will.

And now I leave the floor to Hans, who will share some more details on the report.

Thank you.

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