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MEPs agree more stringent air pollution limits in crucial vote

A close vote in the European Parliament’s environment committee sees binding limits to reduce air pollution by 2030 agreed for six pollutants

European environment MEPs agreed binding national emissions limits for 2025 and 2030 covering a number of pollutants after a close vote in Brussels this morning (July 15).

MEPs on the environment committee voted in favour of the proposals this morning (July 15)

MEPs on the environment committee voted in favour of the proposals this morning (July 15)

And, despite strong opposition from the agricultural sector and national governments – including the UK and France – MEP’s on the European Parliament’s environment committee voted in favour of including ammonia and methane in the targets.

The agreement was welcomed by environmental groups as well as UK Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green Party MEPs for being more “ambitious” than the European Commission’s original 2013 proposals.

However, UK Conservative MEP and rapporteur for the legislation, Julie Girling, criticised the “unreasonable” and “unrealistic” targets agreed for ammonia and methane, which she said could derail any final agreement on the legislation and penalise farmers.

The European agricultural sector is a major contributor to emissions of these two pollutants, and lobby groups had sought more time for farmers and national governments to help meet any binding methane and ammonia limits.

This morning’s vote (38 in favour, 28 against and two abstentions) saw MEPs approve plans for the revised legislative package to include national limits to be met by 2030 for six pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, methane, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

In addition, MEPs voted for binding targets for 2025 for all of these pollutants apart from methane, limits for which must instead be met by 2030 in order to provide the agricultural sector greater time to adapt.

Mercury has also been added by MEPs as one of the pollutants covered by the proposed National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive.

Ambitious

As a result, the limits agreed today are seen as more ambitious than the proposals originally set out by the European Commission in 2013, which had set only indicative – rather than binding – targets for 2025.

The European Parliament must now adopt its formal position on the air quality proposals at a plenary session, expected in September or early October 2015, after which negotiations over the plans will begin with EU national governments.

However, today’s vote was seen by many as crucial for signalling the level of ambition likely to be sought by both the European Parliament and the Council before any legislation becomes European law.

MEPs also called on the Commission to strengthen EU rules on emissions-testing, including for diesel vehicles, to ensure tests reflect real-world emissions and vehicles remain compliant as they get older.

UK MEPs

Green Party MEP Keith Taylor

Green Party MEP Keith Taylor

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder described the package of legislative air quality plans approved today as “ambitious”, adding that “strict EU limits on the most deadly pollutants will force governments to improve air quality across the board, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds”.

In addition, Labour MEP for London Seb Dance described today’s vote as “an important first step to ensure appropriate action is taken by all sectors in the economy to improve air quality”.

The EU level agreement comes on the same day as new figures were published by the Mayor of London estimating that almost 9,500 people each year die prematurely as a result of air pollution (see AirQualityNews.com story), which Mr Dance described as “shocking”.

Also commented on today’s events, Green Party MEP for South East England – Keith Taylor – said: “On the same day a new study has shown that 9,500 people die each year in London from air pollution, the European Parliament took an important step towards cleaner air by voting to adopt more ambitious targets for all pollutants – except for methane, which stays the same.”

Criticism

Julie Girling MEP

Julie Girling MEP

Conservative MEP Julie Girling criticised liberal, socialist and green MEPs on the environment committee, however, for rejecting her original proposal in favour of targets that “haven’t been robustly impact assessed” adding that the agricultural sector’s concerns have been “side-lined by urban MEPs”.

Mrs Girling said: “This legislative process has been overshadowed throughout by the Commission’s threat to withdraw their proposal and their stated intention to hold a review after the European Parliament adopts its initial position.

She added:

“I believe my original proposal presented the right balance between ambitious targets and realistic goals. Unfortunately a coalition of socialists, liberals and greens have focused on increasing the already ambitious targets set by the Commission.

“Therefore I fear that we are now embarking on a long and protracted negotiation, rather than taking the quicker route of improved health for EU citizens.”

Environmental groups

Meanwhile, the European Environment Bureau (EEB) – which represents more than 60 environmental organisations in Europe and had been campaigning in favour of including ammonia and methane in the targets – also welcomed the outcome of this morning’s vote as “good news for all of Europe’s citizens”.

EEB said the text adopted by the Parliament’s environment committee is “more stringent” than the Commission’s original proposals from 2013.

Louise Duprez, senior policy officer for air quality at the EEB, said:

“This makes perfect sense given that the benefits of cleaner air far outweigh any costs of taking action. The Environment Committee has shown leadership in the fight against air pollution.”

In addition, founder and director of campaign group Clean Air in London, Simon Birkett described this morning’s EU vote as a “major development” which would help “put the spotlight on the government as never before as it considers expanding Heathrow and tries to comply with a Supreme Court order to submit a plan to the European Commission before the end of the year to comply with NO2 limits as soon as possible instead of beyond 2030 as currently”.

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