Revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives

In “A European Green Deal”

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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 European Commission has committed to revise the EU's air quality standards to align them more closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

In a March 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 European 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 Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) will provide an opinion. The ENVI Committee plans to discuss its rapporteur's draft report on 22 March 2023.

In the Council, the working party on the environment first discussed the proposal on 18 November 2022. The Commission presented it to EU environment ministers on 20 December 2022. A policy debate is foreseen at the Environment Council on 20 June 2023.


Further reading:

Author: Vivienne Halleux, Members' Research Service,

As of 20/02/2023.