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The Ambient Air Quality Directive revision negotiations must urgently be concluded ahead of the EU elections this June. As trilogue negotiations continue, the Council has included the potential for decade-long exemptions from adhering to the legally binding air pollution limit values, based on countries’ GDP compared to EU average. This could mean that close to two thirds of EU countries could postpone the reduction of air pollutants that are harmful to health until 2040. In turn, this would inevitably lead to increasing health disparities in the EU and a great diversion from the EU’s fundamental value of equality.  

Air pollution continues to be the greatest environmental health risk in the EU. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), 97% of the urban population breathes air which is considered unhealthy by the World Health Organization (WHO). This results in hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and hundreds of billions of euros in health costs each year.

2023 EEA analysis indicated that between 2007-2020, particulate matter PM2.5 levels were higher by around one third in the poorest regions in the European Economic Area. Particulate matter PM2.5 is the pollutant with the greatest health impact.

The Council has included in Article 18 of its general approach the granting of a postponement for countries with lower GDP compared to the EU average (which was 17 out 27 member states in 2022). The highest absolute number of premature deaths in 2020 due to PM2.5 were seen in Poland, Romania, Italy, Spain and Germany according to a another recent EEA reportAlarmingly, all these countries, except for Germany, would be allowed to apply for exemptions on grounds of lower GDP if the Council has its way.

Trying to push through a range of exemptions denies the urgency of firmly addressing the problem – and failing to act would continue to harm those most vulnerable. Sanctioned decade-long delays would result in continued harm to health, that could be preventable, and increasing health inequalities, not to mention the high economic burden of health costs for countries already under economic duress. This cannot be the message the EU is sending to people just before the EU elections.

HEAL’s EU Policy Coordinator Sophie Perroud warns.

Health groups call for member states to ensure in the trilogue discussion that the Ambient Air Quality Directive revision will be implemented without exemptions and without delay and be fully aligned with the science-based recommendations of the World Health Organization by 2030.  In addition, the Belgian EU presidency and member states must ensure the revision is finalised before the EU elections, to address the urgent problem of air pollution impacting all European citizens.

The final trilogue discussions on this crucial directive is expected to be held on 20 of February. 

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