European Environment Bureau (EEB) slams European Council’s ‘watering down’ of NEC Directive on air pollution limits
National environment ministers from EU Member States have fallen “short of the markâ€? and opted to “water downâ€? proposals for EU air pollution emissions limits today (December 16), according to the European Environment Bureau.
28 ministers from national governments within the EU met as part of the European Council today to discuss proposals to update the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive, which sets limits to the amount of pollution every EU country can emit on a yearly basis.
The legislative proposal reviews the annual caps per country for emissions of certain air pollutants, inctroducing new reduction commitments from 2020 to 2029 and from 2030 onwards. The aim is to allign EU law with international commitments, following the revision of the Gothenburg Protocol in 2012.
The European Commission has been looking at setting new caps for 2020, 2025 and 2030 for six pollutants: fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4). The legislation currently covers just NOx, SO2, NMVOCs and NH3 up until 2020.
However, the European Council today opted against including a cap on methane emissions due to “concerns about overlaps with future measures on climate and energy” linked to greenhouse gas emissions.
EU agriculture groups have been lobbying hard against limiting methane emissions, of which farming practices are a major contributor, over concerns this would place unfair cost burdens on the sector.
As such, the Council, which is made up of ministers from Member States’ national governments, said it adopted a “general approach” for the proposed NEC Directive during the Environment Council meeting today.
The Council’s ‘general’ position will now serve as a basis for negotiations with MEPs in the European Parliament, with a view to reach an agreement in the short term.
Additional flexibilities to help Member States comply with new NECD pollutant caps were also proposed by the Council.
One of these is the possibility for Member States to average the annual emissions with the emissions of the preceding year and those of the following.
This can be applied when Member State is ont in a positiion to fulfi its commitment one year “due to particularly cold of hot temperatures or to unforseen economic variations” the Council said.
In addition, the possibility to compensate for the non-compliance regarding one pollutant with an equivalent reduction of another for a limited time is also proposed for some cases. Moreover, a member state could be deemed to comply with its obligations “in cases of exceptional interruptions or losses of capacity in power or heating supply”.
The President of the Environment Council, Luxembourg minister Dieschbourg, commented: “Air pollution affects the health of all citizens. Urgent action is needed to improve the air quality in Europe. After difficult discussions, we achieved a balanced compromise today, which gets the support of many member states and is still ambitious. We should strive towards an outcome, which respects the ambition level of the directive and the spirit of the Paris Climate Agreement.”
However, EEB criticised the European Council decision today to remove methane entirely from the Directive while also allowing emissions of ammonia and fine particles “to be churned out in dangerously high amountsâ€?.
Louise Duprez, EEB senior policy officer for air quality, said: “This generous Christmas gift to big polluting industries and agro-businesses will have high costs for Europeans, resulting in thousands of premature deaths, illnesses, allergies and other health impacts, as well as damage to Europe’s nature and wildlife.
“However, this is not the final word on this issue; the European Council can still overturn this lack of ambition and reintroduce strong air pollution targets as it enters into negotiations with the European Parliament. This is the time for the Council to take its responsibility in the fight against air pollution and put people’s health before vested interests.â€?