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18 December 2019
Asthma , COPD, Allergy
- Air Quality

The Commission releases the Ambient Air Quality Directives Fitness Check report…

At the end of November, the European Commission unveiled the long-awaited report of the fitness check of the EU Air Quality Directives. Led by Directorate General for Environment, the report has been the result of a process launched in July 2017, aiming at assessing the effectiveness of the EU legislation to reduce air pollution and curb its adverse effects to human health and the environment.

The Commission emphasizes on the significant progress that the EU policies have had in improving air quality in many parts of the EU, also acknowledged by the other EU institutions in the course of the last year. Based on the data collected, the report concludes that the AAQ Directives have been ‘broadly fit for purpose’.

However, it is nevertheless noted that the success has been only partial, as serious challenges still remain, mostly linked to the lack of implementation by Member States. In particular, certain shortcomings have been detected in the required action to meet air quality standards and address persistent exceedances of pollutants in an efficient and timely fashion. This points to a need for improvement in the existing framework.

One of the key areas where the report identifies an opportunity for improvement is the alignment of EU air quality standards with those established by the World Health Organisation Guidelines. Indeed, the Commission recognizes that the EU framework can be more ambitious, in line with established scientific advice for several pollutants, especially fine particulate matter. It is stressed that a review of the WHO Guidelines are currently ongoing, a process that the Commission is following closely.

Moreover, the report also discussed the issue of accessibility and availability of information. Although there have been advancements over time, it is noted that information to the public has not always been harmonized due to the lack of defined alert thresholds for some pollutants.  

You can access the full report here, while an executive summary is available here.

…and then presents a Roadmap for a European Green Deal! 

Just two weeks after the release of the Air Quality Directives Fitness Check report, the Commission presented one of the key commitments of the new President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen: the Communication on a European Green Deal, designed to be a response to climate and environment-related challenges that Europe is facing. The Commissioner leading the dossier is Frans Timmermans from the Netherlands.

The Communication outlines the key policies and measures towards which the EU will invest its political and financial resources in the coming five years. These include legislative and non-legislative initiatives in areas such as transport, energy, industrial strategy (including energy-intensive industries), food production, chemicals, and biodiversity, with particular action plans aiming at zero pollution in air, water and soil.

In the policies that relate to EFA’s work, the Commission pledged to set out the conditions for an effective and fair transition towards carbon neutrality by 2050 through a ‘Climate Law’, the proposal of which is expected by March 2020. In this respect, the EU executive will present by next summer a plan to increase the greenhouse gas emission reductions target for 2030 to at least 50% and towards 55% compared to 1990 levels.

The list of future actions also contains initiatives related to buildings, such as the review of the Construction Products Regulation, and a new initiative on renovation in 2020, serving as a multi-sectoral platform that will aim at addressing barriers to renovation. Furthermore, the so-called ‘From Farm to Fork’ strategy consists another key element of the European Green Deal, especially in terms of ensuring a safe and sustainable food system. In line with the mission letter of the new Health Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, initiatives in this area are expected to include actions on improving consumer information with a view to avoiding health-related risks due to food.

Finally, the European Green Deal heralds ‘a zero-pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment’, focusing, among other things, on a zero-pollution action plan for air in 2021. The intention of the Commission to propose a revision of the air quality standards ‘to align them more closely with the WHO recommendations’ is key in this respect. This initiative is an important first step towards even higher air quality as a preventative measures against chronic respiratory diseases. Additionally, it has been a key policy ask of EFA since the launch of the public consultation linked to the fitness check of the Ambient Air Quality Directives, which concluded last month.

Please find the full ‘Commission Communication on a European Green Deal’, including other relevant information here. The Annex with comprehensive tables of all planned actions can also be found here.