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24th Aug 2019

Farmers must help clean up air, MEPs say

  • Ammonia emissions result from manure and fertilizers, while ruminants like cows and goats produce methane emissions (Photo: Camilo Rueda López)

The European Parliament's environment committee on Wednesday (15 July) refused to exclude the agricultural sector from efforts to reduce air pollution, saying farmers should also contribute to lowering the number of premature deaths due to dirty air.

A majority in the committee voted to include limits on methane and ammonia in a revision of a directive on air quality.

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The move came despite an attempt by centre-right MEPs to remove the two farming-related pollutants from the legislation.

The new rules are an update of current rules limiting the level of pollutants that EU member states are allowed to have in the air, with air pollution estimated to cause around 400,000 premature deaths in the EU each year.

The European Commission proposed national air quality targets that countries should reach by 2030, but the environment-committee MEPs voted to include a binding target for 2025 as well.

The committee vote also called for mercury to be added to the list of pollutants. Many mercury emissions are a result from gold mining and coal combustion.

In an unusual turn, the report’s author, British Conservative MEP Julie Girling, voted against it, essentially arguing that it was too ambitious.

"I could not support amendments which increase ambition without a thorough and comprehensive impact assessment,” she told this website, adding that it would just give governments an “excuse” not to negotiate quickly.

MEPs in the largest group in the parliament, the centre-right EPP, also voted against the proposals. Spokesperson Daniel Koster told this website the group was most concerned about methane and ammonia being on the list.

Ammonia emissions result from manure and fertilizers, while ruminants like cows and goats produce methane.

Koster said one result of strict methane limits could be “that cows cannot be outside anymore”.

The vote follows attempts by the UK government to water down the ammonia and methane targets. The UK lobby included a document, seen by this website, sent to British MEPs with suggestions how to vote on each amendment.

“The proposal to include methane in the Directive from 2030 would duplicate international and domestic climate change legislation, causing additional regulatory burden for industry and Government without a corresponding benefit for the environment”, the document said.

Methane is not only a pollutant, but also a greenhouse gas, which contributes to climate change.

EU leaders last autumn set greenhouse gas targets for 2030.

However, the goal does not specify which greenhouse gases a country should reduce. It could, in theory, focus all its attention on reducing carbon dioxide, but leave the agricultural sector untouched.

The report will be voted on by the full parliament in October.

Interview

EU dilemma: more milk or clean air

MEP Julie Girling is steering an air pollution bill through the European Parliament, as national governments try to lower targets.

Lobbyists play tug-of-war with MEPs on farm emissions

On Wednesday, the European Parliament will vote on new air quality rules. The key question is whether two agriculture-related pollutants, methane and ammonia, will be included in the legislation.

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