In the wake of a supportive European Parliament vote in November 2016, the EU Council of environment ministers has also approved and formally adopted a new Directive to reduce air pollution.
Now, publication of the Directive, which was agreed on 8 December, is expected imminently within the Official Journal of the European Union.
Importantly, the directive aligns EU rules with international commitments (following the revision of the Gothenburg Protocol in 2012.
Commenting on the adoption of the new directive last week, László Sólymos, Slovak Environment Minister and President of the Council, said: “These new rules will save lives and improve the health of EU citizens. Their implementation will require a significant commitment from the member states, but we are ready for this challenge. The protection of the health and the environment are well worth the efforts which will be needed.”
In a statement, the European Council said that the overall aim of the directive is “to reduce the health risks and environmental impact of air pollution. With this directive, the number of premature deaths due to air pollution in the EU is estimated to be cut by about 50% in 2030 (compared to 2005).”
The rules cover emissions of five pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, ammonia and fine particulate matter.
The directive sets ceilings for each country of the maximum emissions allowed per year. The limits for each pollutant that will apply each year from 2020 to 2029 are identical to those to which the member states are already committed under the revised Gothenburg protocol. New stricter reductions have been agreed from 2030.
Indicative emission levels for 2025 will be identified for each member state. They will be determined on the basis of a linear trajectory towards the emission limits that will apply from 2030. However, member states will have the possibility to follow a non-linear trajectory if this is more efficient.
If member states deviate from the trajectory planned, they will need to give the reasons and explain the actions they intend to take in order to get back on track.
Some flexibility to comply with the limits is foreseen, under certain circumstances. For instance, if one year a member state cannot fulfil its commitment due to an exceptionally cold winter or dry summer, this country will have the possibility to average out annual emissions with those of the preceding and subsequent year.
The new directive has its roots in Commission proposals which were originally presented as part of the ‘Air quality package’ in December 2013