Revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives
In “A European Green Deal”
In its work programme for 2022, adopted on 19 October 2021, the European Commission announced that it would put forward, in the third quarter of 2022, a revision of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives (Directives 2004/107/EC and 2008/50/EC).
Under the European Green Deal, the EU has set itself the objective of reducing air, water and soil pollution to levels no longer considered harmful to health and natural ecosystems and respecting the boundaries the planet can cope with by 2050. This is also referred to as the 'EU's zero pollution ambition'. One of the key objectives set for 2030 in the zero-pollution action plan for air, water and soil, presented on 12 May 2021, is to reduce the number of premature deaths caused by fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by at least 55 % compared with 2005 levels. Under the plan, the Commission has committed to revise the EU's air quality standards to align them more closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.
In its 2021 resolution on the implementation of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives, the European Parliament made a series of recommendations to strengthen EU legislation. In particular, it called for EU standards to be updated as soon as the new WHO guidelines are available, and for a mandatory periodic review of standards to keep pace with the latest scientific evidence. It also recommended covering non-regulated pollutants with demonstrated adverse impacts on health and the environment, such as ultrafine particles, black carbon, mercury and ammonia. The WHO global air quality guidelines were updated, and tightened, in September 2021.
On 26 October 2022, the Commission tabled its proposal for a revision, merging the two EU Ambient Air Quality Directives into a single directive. While introducing a zero-pollution objective for air, to be achieved by 2050, the proposed directive would set interim 2030 EU air quality standards that are closer to WHO guidelines. For instance, the annual limit value for PM2.5 would be reduced from 25 µg/m³ to 10 µg/m³ in 2030 (WHO guideline is 5µg/m³). By 31 December 2028 (and every 5 years thereafter), the Commission would assess whether EU standards are still appropriate and whether additional air pollutants have to be covered. The review would evaluate the need to revise the directive to ensure alignment with WHO guidelines and the latest scientific information. Furthermore, the proposal would establish a right for people to be compensated where damage to their health has occurred wholly or partially as a result of a violation of EU air quality rules. The proposed text also seeks to bring more clarity on public information on air quality, access to justice and penalties, and updates rules on air quality monitoring and modelling.
In Parliament, the file was referred to the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), which appointed Javi López (S&D, Spain) as rapporteur on 11 January 2023. The ENVI Committee adopted its legislative report on 27 June 2023. It sets stricter 2030 limit and target values for several pollutants, including PM2.5 and PM10, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone. It proposes to make a distinction between the air quality plans required to ensure the attainment of the new air quality standards ('air quality roadmaps') and those required in the event of standard exceedances. The report would require Member States to monitor black carbon, ammonia and mercury in locations where high concentrations of such pollutants are likely to occur (whereas the proposal envisages such monitoring for ultrafine particles alone) and increase the number of related sampling points. There would also be an increase in the number of monitoring supersites at urban background locations. Air quality indices would have to be comparable across all Member States and accompanied by detailed information on the associated health risks for each pollutant. Rules on compensation would be specified. Member States would have to ensure that financing measures for improving air quality are prioritised in the use of revenues from penalties.
The report was put to the vote during the September 2023 plenary session. 363 MEPs voted in favour, 226 against and 46 abstained. Parliament's plenary decided that the stricter limit values recommended by ENVI would need to be attained by 1 January 2035. The limit values proposed by the Commission should be reached by 1 January 2030, as an intermediate step. Parliament's position is now set for negotiations with the Council.
The Council reached a general approach on the file on 9 November 2023. Among other elements, it proposes to maintain the values for benzo(a)pyrene and arsenic, cadmium and nickel as target values (instead of limit values) until 2030. It introduces new reasons to justify postponement of the deadline for attainment of the air quality limit values in certain areas (presence of a high share of low-income households if the Member State concerned has a lower national GDP per capita than the EU average; modelling applications results showing that the limit values cannot be attained within the attainment date). Member States would be able to request a postponement of the deadline for maximum 10 years (until no later than 1 January 2040). The Council position further seeks to strengthen provisions on transboundary pollution, and maintain a more flexible approach to modelling. It requires the Commission to review the air quality standards by 2030 and as frequently as necessary after that, to assess whether they need to be updated based on the latest scientific information, whether more air pollutants need to be covered, and whether additional postponement of the deadlines or adjustments to transboundary air pollution provisions should be considered. The Council significantly amends the proposed articles on access to justice, compensation and penalties.
Trilogue negotiations are ongoing, with a next round of talks on 23 January.
- EP legislative observatory, Procedure file on Ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, recast, 2022/0347(COD)
- Council, Mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament, 15236/23
- European Commission, Proposal for a directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (recast), COM(2022) 542 final
- European Commission, Pathway to a Healthy Planet for All. EU Action Plan: 'Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil', COM(2021) 400
- European Commission, Inception impact assessment on the Revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives, 17 December 2020
- European Parliament, Resolution of 25 March 2021 on the implementation of the Ambient Air Quality Directives, 2020/2091(INI)
- European Economic and Social Committee, Opinion, Revision of EU ambient air quality legislation, NAT/879
- European Committee of the Regions, Opinion, Revision of the EU ambient air quality legislation, CdR 6180/2022
- European Parliament, EPRS, Revision of EU air quality legislation: Setting a zero pollution objective for air, Briefing, September 2023
- European Parliament, EPRS, Cleaner Air for Europe, Initial appraisal of the Commission impact assessment, March 2023
- European Parliament, EPRS, Revision of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives, Implementation appraisal, October 2022
Author: Vivienne Halleux, Members' Research Service, firstname.lastname@example.org