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June 1st, 2015:

Air pollution costs European economies US$ 1.6 trillion a year

AcidNews June 2015

A staggering US$ 1.6 trillion is the economic cost of the approximate 600,000 premature deaths and of the diseases caused by air pollution in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European region in 2010. The amount is nearly equivalent to one tenth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the EU in 2013, says a new study by the WHO Regional Office for Europe and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Over 90 per cent of citizens in the 53 countries of the region are exposed to annual levels of outdoor fine particulate matter that are above WHO’s air quality guidelines. This accounted for 482,000 premature deaths in 2012 from heart and respiratory diseases, blood vessel conditions and strokes, and lung cancer. In the same year, indoor air pollution resulted in an additional 117,200 premature deaths, five times more in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

Source: WHO press release, 28 April 2015. Link:$-1.6-trillion-a-year-in-diseases-and-deaths,-new-who-study-says

Cities’ air quality efforts ranked

AcidNews June 2015

Zurich topped a new ranking list of European cities based on efforts to improve air quality. It was followed by Copenhagen, Vienna and Stockholm. At the bottom of the list came Luxembourg and Lisbon.

The Swiss city of Zurich emerged as the winner of the second ‘Sootfree Cities’ ranking list that graded the efforts to improve air quality of 23 major European cities.

In 2011, the last time the ranking was published by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), the winner was Berlin (see AN3/2011). It slipped to fifth place this year.

The ranking concentrated on measures put in place in cities over the past five years and looked at air quality plans for the next five years to take into account changes that were already in the pipeline.

The list of categories evaluated included:

• Air pollution reductions;
• How comprehensive low emission zones & bans for heavy polluters are;
• How clean public procurement for transport is;
• How comprehensive the strategy for non-road mobile machinery is;
• What type of economic incentives are used;
• How successful the city is at managing road traffic and other transport modes;
• How comprehensive the city has been at promoting public transport;
• How successful the city is at promoting walking and cycling;
• Whether it provides attractive and comprehensive information to citizens about air quality.

In Zurich and Copenhagen the number of cars has been substantially reduced and there are restrictions on highly polluting vehicles such as diesel cars, trucks and construction machinery. At the same time, cleaner forms of transport, such as public transport, cycling and walking have been greatly expanded.

Arne Fellermann, Transport Policy Officer at BUND, commented: “Our ranking shows that cities across Europe have been actively fighting air pollution because of the EU’s air quality standards.

Although 90 per cent of Europeans living in cities today are still breathing unhealthy July, a proposal to revise the NEC Direcair, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna or Berlin have either met, or are due to meet, the EU limit values within the next two years. Zurich has already progressed well beyond the EU’s norms.”

None of the 23 cities reached grade A, which is awarded for cities that score at least 90 per cent of the maximum number of points. A total of six cities failed with an F grade, namely: Dublin, Glasgow, Madrid, Rome, Lisbon and Luxembourg.

It was pointed out that cities’ efforts to fight air pollution are hampered by inadequate action at EU level to fight air pollution, and that effective EU rules that reflect the emissions of road vehicles under real driving conditions are urgently needed.

The EU should also strengthen emission standards for construction machinery (so-called non-road mobile machinery), and tighten the overall air pollution emission limits in 2020, 2025 and 2030 under the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive. The latter would cut the amount of pollution each member state is allowed to emit and reduce long-distance pollution, which cities are helpless to deal with.

Member states’ environment ministers will discuss the NEC Directive in June. Initive will be voted on in the Environment Committee of the European Parliament, followed by a plenary vote scheduled for September.

Louise Duprez, Senior Policy Officer for Air Pollution at the EEB, said: “Cities can do a lot to improve air quality, but they are left exposed to some pollution they can’t control. This includes pollution coming from outside the city, like emissions from agriculture or industry. The EU must be more ambitious if it wants to prevent deadly smog episodes.”

According to the European Commission, air pollution is the number one environmental cause of premature death in the EU, responsible for more than ten times the toll of road traffic accidents. In 2010 air pollution caused over 400,000 premature deaths as well as substantial avoidable sickness and suffering, including respiratory conditions and exacerbated cardiovascular problems. The annual external costs of these health impacts were estimated to range between €330 and 940 billion.

Source: EEB/BUND press release, 31 March 2015

For the full ranking, explanation of the methodology and the results for each city, visit:

Minimising the use of fossil fuels is key to resolving both climate change and air pollution

AcidNews June 2015

The proposed revision of the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive is currently being debated in the Council and in the European Parliament. While there is wide agreement on the urgency of additional action to cut air pollution, there are differing views among member states on how much and how quickly their emissions should come down.

In its annual air quality report from November last year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) estimated that current levels of air pollution are responsible for 447,000 premature deaths in the EU every year, as well as allergies and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases which result in extra medication, hospitalisations and millions of lost working days.

Moreover, air pollution damages nature and biodiversity, with the deposition of acidifying and eutrophying pollutants and the concentrations of ground-level ozone still exceeding the tolerance limits of sensitive ecosystems over millions of hectares of land in Europe. Agricultural crops and forest productivity are also hit by air pollution, as are building materials and cultural monuments.

The health impacts alone carry enormous costs to society – estimated to amount to between €330 and €940 billion/yr.

This means that even a purely economic cost-benefit approach motivates a very significant stepping up of action to tackle air pollution, since the health benefits alone outweigh by far the additional costs for emissions control.

Because the health impacts are relatively easy to value, much of the political debate on establishing a “suitable” level of ambition for future emission reduction targets tends to focus on economics. And much too often member states focus primarily on the perceived costs, while at the same time largely ignoring the benefits.

However, clean air and water, healthy people, forests and heathlands, and a rich flora and fauna are necessary for a high quality of life, and must not be overlooked by policy makers, whether or not they are valued in monetary terms.

The gravity of the air pollution situation calls for a new NEC directive that establishes a very high level of ambition.

It is certainly not acceptable that even after 2030, air pollution will still cause a quarter of a million premature deaths, and that millions of hectares of valuable eco-systems will still be exposed to excessive pollutant levels, as would be the case under the Commission’s proposed new NEC directive.

Applying new and improved emission control techniques must be part of the solution, and that’s why EU source-sector legislation must be regularly updated and strengthened.

Minimising the use of fossil fuels is key to resolving both climate change and air pollution, as it cuts emissions of carbon dioxide as well as those of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matter and mercury. Better energy efficiency, increased use of less-polluting or non-polluting renewable energy sources, and behavioural change (e.g. reducing car usage and meat consumption) are examples of measures that will benefit both air quality and the climate.

The EU’s new climate and energy policy for 2030 – which was not accounted for in the Commission’s proposed new NEC directive – opens the way for more ambitious clean air targets, as was demonstrated by the Parliament’s impact assessment study.

But we all know that to avoid dangerous climate change, we need much tougher climate and energy targets, and this will help to achieve even stricter air pollution targets. At the same time, the significant short-term co-benefits for health and nature from the resulting air pollution reductions should help to motivate a much higher level of ambition for climate policy.

Christer Ågren


Higher ambitions needed for NEC

AcidNews Jone 2015

National emission reduction commitments for 2030 should ensure achievement of the World Health Organization’s recommended air quality levels.

A coalition of environmental groups has summarised their main concerns about the proposed revision of the EU’s National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) directive, and provided inputs to the ongoing decision- making process in the European Parliament and the Council.

Every year, over 400,000 Europeans die prematurely because of air pollution. Poor air quality also makes Europeans sick and significantly reduces their quality of life, in particular in cities. Increased illness, hospital admissions, extra medication and millions of lost working days are very costly for the European Union – the health-related costs of air pollution amounted to €330–940 billion in the year 2010 alone, which is equivalent to between 3 and 9 per cent of the EU’s GDP. This includes €15 billion in direct costs from lost workdays and €4 billion from treatments of chronic bronchitis.

Air pollution also causes great harm to Europe’s ecosystems, crop yields, buildings and monuments.

Numerous studies have systematically demonstrated that the benefits of taking action to cut emissions of air pollutants outweigh the costs, in most cases by large margins.

Although environmental groups welcomed the Commission’s proposal from December 2013 to revise the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive, they conclude that its ambition level does not match the scale of Europe’s air quality problems and the benefits at stake. Some of the main points of criticism are that:

• The targets, known as “Emission Reduction Commitments” (ERCs), set for 2020 have been copy-pasted from the 2012 revised Gothenburg Protocol without consideration of the potential for additional health and  environmental benefits for the EU of higher ambition levels. These proposed ERCs are expected to be achieved by member states, in many cases by a wide margin, just by implementing existing legislation. In some cases, the proposed ERCs would even result in higher emissions in 2020 than are allowed under the old NEC Directive dating from 2010.

• The Commission’s proposal does not set legally binding reductions for 2025, thus risking the delay of urgently needed action until 2030.

• The proposed ERCs for 2030 are clearly not sufficient to achieve the World Health Organization’s recommended levels of air quality, which are equivalent to the EU’s long-term air quality objective as set out in the 7th Environmental Action Programme. Even after implementing the proposed 2030 ERCs, air pollution would still cause some 260,000 premature deaths every year, i.e. more than half of today’s death toll would still remain. Large areas of sensitive ecosystems would still be exposed to excessive inputs of acidifying and eutrophying air pollutants.

The European Parliament’s Rapporteur, British Conservative MEP Julie Girling, published her draft report in late March, saying that “the NEC Directive is Europe’s overarching framework piece of legislation for air quality, and without effective and implementable source legislation, member states will never meet their emission reduction targets. In other words, a further tightening of air quality standards will be redundant unless we see a clear reduction in pollution from the main sources”.

Her report recommends improvements with regard to some aspects of the Commission’s proposal, in particular the 2025 emission reduction commitments, which she proposes to make mandatory for four out of the six pollutants.

Environmental groups also welcomed her proposals to require member states to monitor the impacts of air pollution; to strengthen the role of both the Commission and the public in scrutinising national air pollution control programmes; to improve coherence between the NEC directive and the ambient air quality directive, as well as with source emission legislation; and to remove the proposed shipping flexibility.

It was noted with criticism, however, that she missed the opportunity to improve the proposal’s ambition level for 2020, 2025 and 2030, especially considering that since the Commission published its proposal nearly one and half years ago, there are new studies and developments that further strengthen the case for more ambitious air pollution reductions.

For example, recent adjustments to national emission inventories and projections by member states show more optimistic developments in air pollutant emissions in comparison with the Commission’s previous calculations (see AN 1/15, p 22).

This means that more ambitious ERCs and higher benefits could be achieved for the same initial cost.

Moreover, the European Parliamentary Research Service’s impact assessment report demonstrates that more ambition is possible and can be achieved at the same or lower cost (see AN 4/14, p 18–19). It shows that reduced consumption of polluting fuels under the EU’s new climate and energy policy agreed by the EU Council last October would decrease the need and costs for air pollution controls and make further air quality improvements significantly cheaper.

In light of the significant health, environmental and economic benefits that would result from a more ambitious NEC Directive, the environmental groups call upon the European Parliament and the Council to support:

• Significantly stricter ERCs for 2025 and 2030. The ambition level should ensure the achievement of WHO’s recommended air quality levels by 2030.

• Stricter ERCs for 2020, based on the most recent baseline figures and on a linear pathway towards the achievement of the 2025 and 2030 levels.

• Legally binding ERCs for 2025 for all pollutants covered by the directive.

• Legally binding ERCs for methane and mercury for all three target years, 2020, 2025 and 2030. (Mercury is left out of the Commission’s proposal despite being a toxic and highly transboundary pollutant causing great damage to health and ecosystems.)

• The rejection of flexibilities such as adjustment of emission inventories and offsetting of emissions between land and sea.

On 15 June, environment ministers will discuss the directive in Brussels. A vote in the Parliament’s environment committee is scheduled for 15 July, with a plenary vote in September.

Source: “NGO recommendations on the revision of the NEC directive following the publication of the rapporteur’s draft report” (13 April 2015). By the European Environmental Bureau, Transport & Environment, ClientEarth, Health and Environment Alliance and AirClim. Link: