Tuesday

1st Dec 2020

MEPs adopt compromise air-pollution bill

  • Protesters in London demanding cleaner air (Photo: Ron F)

The European Parliament has adopted lower air-pollution targets than it originally wanted on Wednesday (23 November).

The compromise was supported by 499 votes in favour, 177 against, while 28 MEPs abstained.

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  • France's capital is often struggling with air pollution (Photo: Damián Bakarcic)

The three largest political groups in the parliament, who have a comfortable majority together, had already told this website they would support a compromise text that was agreed with national governments before the summer break.

“It's not a perfect solution, but it will go a long way to making important health improvements for our citizens,” said Conservative MEP Julie Girling on Wednesday during a debate ahead of the vote in Strasbourg. Girling negotiated with governments on behalf of the parliament.

“In any negotiation, there are compromises to be made,” EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete added.

“The final position is an honourable outcome which is both ambitious, fair, and practical,” he said in Strasbourg.

The bill sets five pollution ceilings - upper limits to the concentrations of pollutants in the air - for 2020 and 2030 for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, ammonia and fine particulate matter. It also sets indicative targets for 2025.

Each member state has its own ceilings, and they were also involved in negotiating their height.

Air pollution causes 400,000 premature deaths each year in Europe, according to estimates, and also contributes to chronic diseases like asthma.

The original set of ceilings, proposed back in December 2013 by the European Commission, was estimated to reduce air-quality related health problems by 52 percent.

The compromise proposal is expected to reduce that aim to 49.6 percent.

The compromise deal also excludes any targets for methane, part of the commission's original proposal. National governments successfully negotiated to have that taken out to accommodate the agricultural sector, which is largely responsible for methane emissions.

Centre-left Britsh MEP Seb Dance sent a press release ahead of the vote, explaining why he would support the deal.

“There's no denying that Parliament wanted greater ambition and national governments can and should do more,” he wrote.

"But faced with the intransigence of Member States and the urgency of the problem, this was not a time for principled opposition that would have seen the legislation kicked into the long grass by national governments."

Political groups further to the left, however, have expressed disappointment over the deal.

“The negotiations this time between the EU institutions, we feel, have led to the interests of industry and farming being placed above citizens' health,” said Niki Sullings, spokeswoman for the far left GUE group last Friday.

Her counterpart from the Green groups concurred.

“We think it is not a good deal. There were too many things weakened down or taken out of the agreement, so we will vote against this,” said Greens spokeswoman Ruth Reichstein.

The vote in Strasbourg brings to a close a legislative procedure that took almost three years.

The bill succeeds a previous set of emissions ceilings, which have proved difficult to meet.

According to the European Environmental Agency (EEA), 10 member states exceeded at least one ceiling in 2014.

That year, six member states exceeded their cap of nitrogen oxides (NOx): Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, and Luxembourg.

“NOx reductions from this sector have been lower than originally anticipated over the last two decades, partly because transport has grown more than expected, and partly owing to the larger than expected growth in diesel vehicles producing higher NOx emissions than petrol-fuelled vehicles,” the EEA said.

Agriculture

The vote occurred on the same day the EEA published its an annual report on air quality.

The EEA said agriculture is "by far" the greatest emitter of ammonia and methane, two pollutants for which limits were respectively weakened and scrapped.

"Agriculture is the main emitter sector in which emissions of air pollutants have decreased least," the EEA said.

This article was updated at 12:45 to include the outcome of the vote

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