Thursday

30th Jun 2022

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 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

MEPs snub regulation of cow methane

Methane is second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. But MEPs voted to exclude "enteric methane," which is 80 to 85 percent of agriculture's share of emissions.

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.

News in Brief

  1. New president for European Committee of the Regions
  2. Gas flows from Spain to Morocco, after Western Sahara row
  3. BioNTech, Pfizer test 'universal' coronavirus vaccine
  4. UK sanctions second-richest Russian businessman
  5. Hungary permits emergency supervision of energy firms
  6. Bulgaria expels 70 alleged Russian spies
  7. EU Commission told to improve CAP data analytics
  8. Scotland pushes for second independence vote in 2023

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  2. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  4. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic think tank examines influence of tech giants

Latest News

  1. Nato expands and reinforces on Russian flank
  2. EU Commission says it cannot find messages with Pfizer CEO
  3. EU ministers sign off on climate laws amid German infighting
  4. EU presidency still looking for asylum relocation pledges
  5. Finland and Sweden to join Nato, as Erdoğan drops veto
  6. The euro — who's next?
  7. One rubicon after another
  8. Green crime-fighting boss urgently required, key MEP says

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us