European Union approves new rules to drastically cut air pollution

by CCAC secretariat - 19 December, 2016
The new National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive will enter into force on 31 December 2016.

New year’s eve 2016 will see new rules come into effect that aim to drastically cut air pollution in Europe and halve the number of air pollution related deaths and diseases by 2030. The new European Union (EU) National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive will set stricter limits on five main air pollutants: fine particulate matter (also known as PM2.5), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds. EU Member States must transpose the Directive into national legislation by 30 June 2018 and produce a National Air Pollution Control Programme by 2019 setting out measures to ensure that emissions of the five main air pollutants are reduced by the percentages agreed by 2020 and 2030.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) welcomed the new rules saying many of the Coalition’s initiatives to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, particularly black carbon,  will also contribute to the achieving the NEC Directive.  

For black carbon, the Directive requires Member States to prioritise reductions of black carbon when taking measures on PM2.5. The key sectors for PM are also the principal emitters of black carbon – road and non-road transport, solid fuel domestic combustion, and open burning of agricultural waste. Thus the measures taken on these should ensure robust black carbon abatement.

Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said: "The new European air quality rules are a significant landmark in the fight against this invisible killer that is air pollution. Air pollution kills over 450 000 people in Europe each year. This is more than ten times as many as road traffic accidents. Now it is for the national governments to start with implementation so that people can benefit from cleaner air. We will work with Member States to support them in this challenge for improving the health of EU citizens."

Countries must also coordinate with plans in fields such as transport, agriculture, energy and climate. The EU recognizes that this will require investment, but says “the costs will be many times outweighed by the benefits in cost savings, particularly on health care and sickness at work”.

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The recently published European Commission proposal for an Energy Union Governance Regulation highlights the importance of synergies between air quality and climate and energy policies and the new NEC Directive.

The Commission will work with Member States to ensure implementation, for example by setting up a new Clean Air Forum by autumn 2017 to bring together stakeholders to exchange experience and good practice. The Commission will also facilitate access to EU funding instruments.

Finally, the Directive will pave the way for the ratification of the revised Gothenburg Protocol internationally agreed by Member States in 2012 under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). This will reduce pollution in the Eastern European, Caucasus and Central Asian states benefiting both the countries themselves and the EU citizens who are most directly exposed to transboundary pollution.

The 2020 reduction commitments are identical with those that Member States have already agreed to internationally in the 2012 revision of the Gothenburg Protocol. The 2030 commitments require substantially deeper reductions. These will help to reduce transboundary pollution and background concentrations across Europe.

Both the sectors and some of the substances relevant for air policy are relevant also for climate and energy policy. Every effort was made to ensure close coordination between the air quality proposals and those implementing the Union's greenhouse gas and energy objectives.

All sectors will need to contribute to the effective implementation of the policy, including those such as agriculture which have reduced less in the past. The Commission will work closely with Member States and stakeholders to ensure delivery of the health and environmental benefits.

Click here for Questions and Answers on the new National Emissions Ceiling Directive