Cleaner air: ambitious targets, greater flexibility
Cleaner air through more ambitious targets and greater flexibility
The Environment Committee voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday 2006-06-21 in favour of more ambitious targets on air quality in Europe. However, MEPs want to allow greater flexibility to give Member States more time to adapt to the stricter legislation.
The committee adopted two draft reports on proposals by the European Commission, one on revised Community legislation on ambient air quality, the other on the thematic strategy on air pollution. These topics are part of the Austrian presidency’s priorities and, more broadly, of the sixth action programme for the environment adopted by Parliament and Council in 2002.
Air quality directive
The codecision report by Holger Krahmer (ALDE, DE) on the directive on the quality of ambient air, adopted by 39 votes to 11, calls for more ambitious targets than those set out by the Commission for cutting maximum concentrations of pollutants, especially microparticles or atmospheric dust known as PM2.5 which pose the greatest threat to human health. However, the report calls for more flexibility in achieving the targets, to allow Member States which have problems meeting the criteria more time to adjust.
No fewer than 195 amendments were originally tabled by members of the committee but on Wednesday the main political groups agreed a compromise package. This introduces more flexibility over the time allowed to reach the goals but with more safeguards to ensure that Member States take the measures needed to reduce pollution. For example, longer deadlines will be allowed for some zones or agglomerations but subject to the submission of national plans showing why the limits have not been observed and what measures are planned to ensure compliance in future. "We had to stay cool and calm but we found a balanced compromise between strict health protection and the flexibility" needed at national level, said Mr Krahmer.
- The Environment Committee wants to reduce maximum concentration levels of the largest particles – known as PM10 – to 30µg/m3 on average per year from 2010. The Commission was proposing to keep the limit at 40µg/m3.
- However, for fine particles (PM2.5), which do the most damage to human lungs, MEPs believe it is too soon to set limit values, given the current state of scientific knowledge. Instead they suggest initially setting a target figure, which is less binding and is lower than that proposed by the Commission (20µg/m3 from 2010 instead of 25µg/m3), then awaiting the revision of the directive scheduled for 2015 in order to set 20µg/m3 as the limit value.
- The report also calls for more flexibility over allowing five-year extensions to the deadline in zones or agglomerations which fail to meet the criteria for PM2.5. And it demands flexibility over the goal of reducing the population’s exposure to this type of pollution by 20% by 2020, by setting differing percentage reductions depending on concentration levels.
Strategy on air pollution
The own-initiative report by Dorette Corbey (PES, NL) on the Community thematic strategy for air pollution was adopted unanimously. It calls for more ambitious targets for reducing concentration levels of nitrogen oxides (Nox), volatile organic compounds and fine particles (PM2.5).
MEPs also want to see more focus on the sources of pollution, including agriculture and shipping. As with the directive, the report calls for stricter limit values while envisaging longer deadlines for Member States which have taken all possible steps but still have difficulty meeting the limits.
The goal of the thematic strategy unveiled by the Commission in September 2005 is to reduce by around 40% by 2020 – compared to 2000 – the number of premature deaths caused by ailments linked to air pollution. The directive, which was put forward at the same time, is intended to replace the existing framework directive on air quality and its daughter directives, the aim being to simplify the legislation and bring its technical aspects into line with the latest scientific findings. This is the first time a proposal has been made that concentrations of PM 2.5 should be reduced. Air pollution – chiefly fine particles and tropospheric ozone – is estimated to cause the equivalent of 360 000 premature deaths in the EU every year.