Saturday

2nd Jul 2022

EU air quality improves, but pollution levels still high

  • Some 74 percent of the EU's urban population is exposed to dangerous concentrations of particulate matter (Photo: Skaja Lee)

The last decade has seen air-quality improvements across the continent, but many European citizens are still exposed to illegal and dangerous levels of pollution, according to data released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) on Monday (23 November).

Air pollution is currently the biggest environmental risk to human health in the EU, with 379,000 premature deaths attributed to exposure to particulate matter, 54,000 to nitrogen dioxide and 19,000 to ground-level ozone in 2018.

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

But, in a small sign of progress, the number of premature deaths linked to exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen oxide (both resulting from road traffic and other fossil fuel combustion processes) was respectively 13 percent and 34 percent lower than in 2009.

Between 2009 and 2018, sulphur dioxide emissions resulting from fossil-fuel-based energy production also decreased by 79 percent, while ammonia emissions from fertilisers and livestock manure in the agriculture sector were cut by 10 percent.

"It is good news that air quality is improving. But we can't ignore the downside - the number of premature deaths in Europe due to air pollution is still far too high," the EU commissioner for environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said on Monday.

The EEA report found 74 percent of the EU's urban population is exposed to concentrations of particulate matter above the level established by the World Health Organization's guidance for breathable air. So far, only Estonia, Finland, Iceland and Ireland have stayed below the limits.

Additionally, the EEA executive director Hans Bruyninckx warned about the increase of concentrations of ground ozone emissions since 2013, and its impact on health, as a "problem that requires policy attention".

"[The concentration of] ground-level ozone is concerning as there is a close link with climate change and urban heating effects which, of course, have an immediate impact on the health condition of the most vulnerable during the summer months," Bruyninckx told a press conference.

Covid-19 link still unclear

Meanwhile, the coronavirus lockdowns introduced by almost all member states in the spring led to significant reductions in air pollution - particularly from road transport, aviation and international shipping.

But differences were found within cities and across countries.

In April, for instance, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide fell by 70 percent in Spain and Italy, where lockdowns were more severe.

The EU agency is also studying how air pollution influences the transmission of coronavirus and human vulnerability, but it said that further work is required to assess the full situation.

Earlier this year, the commission concluded that a majority of member states were not on target to deliver on their air pollution reduction commitments for 2020 and 2030.

There are currently 31 ongoing infringement procedures against 18 member states for failing to implement EU air quality rules at national level, and last month the EU's top court ruled that Italy has been flouting rules on air pollution for a decade.

Under EU rules, every EU country had to put forward plans to tackle air pollution in 2018. However, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg and Romania have yet to submit any strategy.

Next year, the commission is expected to adopt an action plan, as part of the Green Deal, focus on reducing air, water and soil levels of pollution.

EU aims at 'zero pollution' in air, water and soil by 2050

The European Commission unveiled a plan to reduce pollution to levels that are no longer harmful to human health and natural ecosystems by 2050 - including reducing the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution by 55 percent.

Opinion

Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways

For the most part Nato and its 30 leaders rose to the occasion — but it wasn't without room for improvement. The lesson remains that Nato still doesn't know how or want to hold allies accountable for disruptive behaviour.

Opinion

Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways

For the most part Nato and its 30 leaders rose to the occasion — but it wasn't without room for improvement. The lesson remains that Nato still doesn't know how or want to hold allies accountable for disruptive behaviour.

MEPs boycott awards over controversial sponsorship

Two MEPs have withdrawn their nominations from the MEPs Awards over the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis's participation as a sponsor — currently involved in an alleged bribery scandal in Greece.

News in Brief

  1. EU Parliament 'photographs protesting interpreters'
  2. Poland still failing to meet EU judicial criteria
  3. Report: Polish president fishing for UN job
  4. Auditors raise alarm on EU Commission use of consultants
  5. Kaliningrad talks needed with Russia, says Polish PM
  6. Report: EU to curb state-backed foreign takeovers
  7. EU announces trade deal with New Zealand
  8. Russia threatens Norway over goods transit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways
  2. Czech presidency to fortify EU embrace of Ukraine
  3. Covid-profiting super rich should fight hunger, says UN food chief
  4. EU pollution and cancer — it doesn't have to be this way
  5. Israel smeared Palestinian activists, EU admits
  6. MEPs boycott awards over controversial sponsorship
  7. If Russia collapses — which states will break away?
  8. EU Parliament interpreters stage strike

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us