Health groups call on the leaders of the Western Balkan countries to harmonize national air quality standards with the World Health Organization Global air quality guidelines. Health experts should be actively involved in these decision-making processes to ensure the timely integration of public health measures into environmental policies. Compliance with WHO recommendations brings multiple benefits – reduced incidence of chronic diseases and premature deaths, reduced overall health costs and, most importantly, better health and higher productivity of people.
On 5 March 2020, the Environment Council of the European Union will adopt Council conclusions on Air Quality.
Air pollution is the top environmental threat to health, leading to 400 000 premature deaths per year across the EU. It is a leading risk factor for major chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. New studies also show a link between air pollution and obesity, diabetes and neurological conditions. Vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, the poor, or those already ill are particularly at risk.
HEAL supports the EU Green Deal Communication commitments to the zero emission and zero pollution ambition.
In particular, the EU Commission’s promise to align the current air quality standards more closely with the science-based recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) is a major and long awaited step forward. It is now crucial to move past the announcement stage and propose a concrete and short timeline to implement WHO guidelines as EU standards, for the health of all Europeans.
In the upcoming Council Conclusions on Air Quality, we therefore call on Environment Ministers to:
- Reflect the urgency to act on air pollution for health protection: the positive effects of this Green Deal need to be breathable by the end of the current EU Commission’ mandate.
- Translate the urgency into action by paving the way forward: the EU Green Deal ambition needs to take the shape of clear steps for clean air in 2020, with a view to aligning the EU air standards with the WHO guidelines.
 European Environment Agency (EEA). Air quality in Europe — 2019 report . EEA Report No 10/2019
 World Health Organisation (WHO) – Regional office for Europe. Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution –REVIHAAP Project Technical Report – 2013.
 Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) – Eight demands for clean air in the European Region – infographic