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22 March 2021
Asthma , COPD, Allergy
PREVENT, - Air Quality

On paper, 2021 seems to have it all: a brand new Zero Air Pollution Action Plan, the revision of the air quality framework, the update of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines, a new EU strategy on climate change, and institutional studies looking into the links of COVID-19 with air pollution.

Air quality policies are expected to be in the spotlight throughout 2021, presenting multiple opportunities for EFA patients and the wider health community to advocate for clean air indoors and outdoors for better prevention and symptoms of allergy, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Of course, the legislation will have to follow the timeline for institutional procedures and not all these initiatives will be agreed and adopted by the end of the year. Yet it is evident that the discussions in 2021 will form the basis for a different and, hopefully, healthier air quality policy landscape for the future.

European Parliament assesses the implementation of the EU Air Quality Directives

In its plenary session this week, the European Parliament (EP) will vote on an own-initiative report on the implementation of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives. The motion for resolution driven by MEPs Javi López (S&D – Spain), Sven Giegold (Greens – Germany) and Frédérique Ries (Renew Europe – Belgium) and it is linked to the ongoing process for the revision of the legislation.

Although own-initiative reports are not legally binding for the European Commission, the vote is key as the adopted text will reflect the EP’s ambition on future policy on clean air, and thus influence the position of the EP in future institutional negotiations.

The draft motion for resolution puts forward principles and targets to improve air quality in the EU. For example:

  • it calls for a full alignment of EU air quality standards with the WHO Guidelines, in line with the latest scientific evidence,
  • acknowledges the challenge posed by indoor air pollution and calls for regulatory actions to address policy gaps for all relevant sources of indoor air pollution,
  • promotes citizens’ awareness and action on issues of air pollution, including better information and more targeted to vulnerable groups of the population,
  • calls for faster infringement proceedings for the implementation of the current air quality legislation.

There is no ambition high enough for air quality. Therefore, EFA Patients call for the adoption of the report and its forward-looking provisions. We ask the EP to exclude any amendments that water down its ambition and dilute its strong messages for clean air in Europe.

Patients expectations for the revision of the Air Quality Directives

Given that the existing air quality legislation has been found to only be partially effective, and also there has been increasing public concern over air quality, the Commission has launched the consultation process to revise the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives. This is a much-awaited initiative to update a legislation that had remained largely unchanged since 2008.

There is plenty of evidence that shows how exposure to air pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and sulphur dioxide have an adverse impact on lung and respiratory health. The evidence reveals how it disproportionately affects patients with asthma, allergy and COPD, as well as children and the elderly. Based on solid scientific data, EFA responded to the preliminary stage of the consultation by highlighting the need for cross-policy actions that ensure:

  • the full alignment of the EU air quality standards with the latest WHO Air Quality Guidelines, when they are published, ensuring that EU adopts binding pollutant limits that match the latest scientific data,
  • measures to address existing gaps in access to publicly available, real-time information, including on natural pollutants such as pollen,
  • stronger implementation of the legislation at the national level, including through rules to streamline monitoring and corrective actions.

You can find the full EFA response to the consultation here.

We will continue advocating for stricter EU Ambient Air Quality Directives in the upcoming consultation stages.

Latest scientific data on air quality and health: the updated WHO Air Quality Guidelines

Meanwhile, WHO is expected to publish its revised Global Air Quality Guidelines in June; a key milestone for health and environmental stakeholders, and policymakers. It will mark the end of a 5-year process of reviewing the latest data and developing the most up-to-date scientific advice to address air pollution. EFA has been part of the External Review Group providing comments to the draft guidelines.

We congratulate WHO for maintaining the ambition and holistic approach in addressing air quality. However, we encouraged WHO to harness its authority also in the implementation and communication of the new guidelines.  Though not mandatory, the revised Guidelines aim to support regulatory decisions globally.

The current Global Air Quality Guidelines are accessible here.

EU Green Week dedicated to the Zero Pollution Action Plan

Presented in October 2020, the EU Zero Pollution Action Plan lays out the overarching vision of the Commission for an EU free of pollution in air, soil, and water. As further commitment to addressing air pollution by the EU, this year’s EU Green Week (31/5-4/6) will be dedicated to the ‘zero pollution ambition’ and will likely mark the adoption of the plan itself.

Revolving around virtual exhibitions and events across the EU, the discussions during the Green Week will look at various policy synergies to ensure pollution prevention in the EU.

Following-up to our contribution in the consultation on the Zero Pollution Action Plan, EFA will follow closely the EU Green Week to bring the voice of chronic respiratory patients to the forefront.

Read more about the Zero Pollution Action Plan.

Register to participate in the EU Green Week.