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Achieving better air quality with the NEC

The European Parliament’s Committee on Environment and Public Health (ENVI) has started to discuss their position on further air pollutant reductions under the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive. HEAL together with other groups urged MEPs to increase the ambition of the draft law.

Every year, over 400,000 Europeans die prematurely because of air pollution. Poor air quality also makes Europeans sick and significantly reduces their quality of life, in particular in cities. Increased illness, hospital admissions, extra medication and millions of lost working days are very costly for the European Union - the health-related costs of air pollution amounted to between €330 billion and €940 billion in 2010 alone, which is equivalent to between 3 and 9% of the EU’s GDP. This includes €15 billion in direct costs from lost workdays and €4 billion from treatment of chronic bronchitis. Air pollution also causes great harm to Europe’s nature, crop yields, buildings and monuments.

On 13 April, the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee discussed the draft report “Reduction of national emission of certain atmospheric pollutants and its amending directive” by MEP Julie Girling. On this occasion, many health, environmental and civil society groups across Europe voiced their recommendations on the proposed revised NEC directive.

In one letter, health NGOs including HEAL, the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Associations (EFA), the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), and the European Respiratory Society (ERS) stated: "As healthcare professionals, patients, scientists, and public health advocates concerned with health and environmental protection, we write to you on behalf of the 400,000 Europeans whose premature deaths are caused each year by air pollution in Europe, and all those suffering from ill-health linked to air pollution to call on you to put public health considerations first in the political debate".

In a second letter, a group of environmental NGOs including HEAL, AirClim, Client Earth, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Transport & Environment (T&E) highlight the current lack of ambition of the proposed revised NEC Directive.

In light of the essential health, environmental and economic benefits that could result from a more ambitious NEC directive, the NGOs call upon the Members of the ENVI Committee to support:

1. Significantly stricter emission reduction commitments for 2025 and 2030: the ambition level should ensure the achievement of WHO recommended levels by 2030, therefore helping the European Union to reach its long-standing aim of achieving “levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on, and risks to human health and environment”, an aim which is enshrined in the EU’s 7th Environmental Action Programme. A recent European Parliamentary Research Service’s impact assessment also demonstrates that more ambition is possible and can be achieved at the same or lower cost (1). The data provided by the European Parliament’s impact assessment study provide a good basis for improvement.

2. Stricter emission reduction commitments for 2020, based on the most recent baseline figures and establishing a linear pathway towards the achievement of the 2025 and 2030 commitments.

3. Legally binding emission reduction commitments for 2025 for all pollutants covered by the directive.

4. Legally binding emission reduction commitments for methane and mercury for all three targets years (2020, 2025 and 2030): currently, methane reductions targets are set only for 2030, despite the fact that methane contributes to toxic ground-level ozone, while mercury is left out of the Commission’s proposal despite being a toxic and highly trans-boundary pollutant causing great damage to health and ecosystems.

5. The rejection of flexibilities such as adjustment of emission inventories and offsetting of emissions between land and sea.

Last updated on 21 April 2015

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »


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