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New atmospheric pollutants cap will save 200,000 lives in the EU by 2030


23 Nov 2016


Health & Consumers
Climate & Environment

Over 400,000 Europeans die prematurely every year due to the bad quality of the air they breathe. This is why the European Parliament today passed a new law to reduce the ceiling of dangerous pollutants allowed in EU member states.
The revised National Emissions Ceiling Directive (NECD) includes binding emission targets for 2030 on five pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3).
The Socialists and Democrats backed the new law because it will save lives and also public money: national governments pay between €300-900 billion every year in health-related costs. However, it falls short of the S&D ambitions due to strong opposition by member states.
The EU Council blocked a range of measures including emission targets for methane and binding interim targets for 2025 [1] and forced through a number of flexibilities which could make the targets more difficult to enforce [2].


S&D spokesperson on air quality, Seb Dance MEP, said:

“We desperately need ambitious and binding limits on these deadly air pollutants to force EU governments to properly address this invisible killer, which is claiming 400,000 lives in Europe every year. These new rules will halve that number by 2030.
“Unfortunately government ministers have worked extremely hard to water down these measures at every opportunity, leading a coalition of the unwilling to undermine them from the very start. There's no denying that Parliament wanted greater ambition and national governments can and should do more. 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. 
“As a British citizen and politician, I am also worried about the huge risk a possible 'hard Brexit' poses for the UK’s environment and public health policy. The vast majority of our environmental protections, including air-pollution limits, are derived from EU legislation. The British government must move to assure the public that there will not be a bonfire of these protections upon leaving the European Union.”


S&D spokesperson on environment and health, Miriam Dalli MEP, said:

"It is a pity that member states are not willing to do more when dealing with our citizens' health. We require ambition and full compliance is expected from all the member states. Cities and high-risk localities with high exposure to air pollutants must step up their efforts to effectively mitigate the problems and keep in line with the EU emission targets.
“Agreeing on objectives to 2030 is the first step. However, we need to continue working to reach long-term objectives. This is the opportunity for industry and the economy to follow a sustainable path and emission-reduction directives are critical to this transition towards sustainability."


Notes for editors
1. National governments will have non-binding interim targets to reach in 2025. The Parliament had pushed for binding limits. The 2025 targets will be determined based on a linear trajectory towards the 2030 targets, but member states can decide to follow a non-linear trajectory if this is more efficient, as long as they set out their reasons and a plan to ensure they will reach the 2030 limits.
2. EU countries will be allowed to average their emissions over three years in case of an ‘extremely dry summer’ or ‘extremely cold winter’. National governments will also be able to readjust their emissions inventories (subject to agreement by the European Commission) in cases where emissions from one sector turn out to be greater than expected. However, the member state must show that the different emissions do not arise from its domestic implementation or enforcement of that legislation.