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Depositphotos | SergeyNivens

© Depositphotos | SergeyNivens Air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk in Europe. More than 400,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of air pollution in Europe. The main cause is particulate matter pollution, which alone kills around 379,000 people a year.

EU Environment Committee votes for cleaner air

We call for tougher limits and faster infringement procedures

The EU Environment Committee today (Thursday) adopted a strong report on the implementation of EU air quality legislation. A progressive majority of Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the Left (43 votes in favor, 33 against, 3 abstentions) adopted ambitious demands for clean air. This pleasing result was negotiated by the Socialist rapporteur Javi López from Spain with the Liberal Frédérique Ries from Belgium, the Left Group and Greens. I was the lead negotiator for the Greens. The final result reflects the previous attempts of the Christian Democrats, led by German Norbert Lins, and right-wing conservatives to significantly lower the ambition of the report. The Christian Democrats voted against the report by a large majority. 

Air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk in Europe. Yet for a long time, there were no clear majorities in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee for better protection of our health and consistent enforcement of EU law. No compromises could be found on some key issues. In particular, the question of whether existing laws should be improved and limit values for pollutants in the air lowered divided the committee. At the core of the issue are stricter limits for particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ammonia and new rules for microplastics and black carbon. Air traffic, industrial plants, factory farming, tyre wear in road traffic and wood heating are particularly responsible for these pollutants. A majority of social democrats, liberals, greens and the left in favour of ambitious goals was opposed by a coalition of Christian democrats, right-wing conservatives and right-wing radicals.

Almost everywhere in Europe the air is worse than EU laws allow. In some cases, EU limit values that have had to be complied with since 2005 are still being broken – but consequences are rare and too slow. Although infringement proceedings are underway against 18 member states, no financial penalties have yet been imposed on any country. But limit values continue to be exceeded every day. The Environment Committee is therefore calling today for faster infringement proceedings.

The European Parliament regularly monitors the implementation of EU law in the Member States and, if necessary, adopts recommendations for better enforcement. These recommendations are not legally binding, but explain the Parliament’s positions with regard to already announced revisions of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives and the Industrial Emissions Directive. Thus, the report has a good chance of changing European law and its enforcement. The report on air quality will be finally adopted by the plenary of the European Parliament on 24/25 March. There will then certainly be new attempts to weaken the decision now taken in the Environment Committee.

Sven Giegold, negotiator for the Greens/EFA Group, explains: “The EU Environment Committee votes for clean air. We cannot simply accept 400,000 deaths per year. It is a confession of failure that the air in Europe continues to be so bad. The Commission must finally get serious in the fight against air pollution. New infringement proceedings against many EU countries are long overdue. Where proceedings have already been opened, the Commission must bring them to a quicker conclusion before the European Court of Justice.

The poison in the air must come to an end. The ambition of a Europe with zero pollution is a long way off today. It requires a drastic change of course in industry, transport, and agriculture. Today’s decision lays the foundation for this. Today, the European Parliament is making strong demands to reduce emissions from industry. Exemptions for coal-fired power plants and cement kilns should soon come to an end. New limit values for ultra-fine particles will particularly benefit people living near an airport. Tens of thousands of tonnes of microplastics are produced every year through tyre abrasion in road traffic, completely unregulated. The Environment Committee is calling for new rules to protect us against these pollutants. I am glad that the Environment Committee has followed the recommendations of science today. This sends a strong signal to the EU Commission and Member State governments for clean air and compliance with EU law everywhere.

The clear result of the final vote belies the many attempts by the Conservatives to significantly lower the ambition of the Parliament. It speaks volumes when representatives of the European People’s Party cannot agree to minimal compromises to protect our health. I am pleased that nevertheless an ambitious majority in the EU Environment Committee voted for clean air.”



Air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk in Europe. More than 400,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of air pollution in Europe. The main cause is particulate matter pollution, which alone kills around 379,000 people a year. Particulate matter is produced in many industrial processes, in road traffic and in agriculture when ammonia in the air reacts with other pollutants to form dangerous particulate matter. Nitrogen dioxide and ozone are also responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths each year. Nitrogen dioxide is mainly emitted in road traffic.

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Sven Giegold 2021

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