The European Court of Auditors found that European citizens still breathe harmful air –
On 13th September 2018, it was published in the Official Journal of the European Union the Special Report No 23/2018 ‘Air pollution: Our health still insufficiently protected’. The European Court of Auditors found that European citizens still breathe harmful air mostly due to weak legislation and poor policy implementation. The recommendations aim to strengthen the Ambient Air Quality Directive and to promote further effective action by the European Commission and the Member States, including better policy coordination and public information.
EU action to protect human health from air pollution has not delivered its expected impact, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors. Every year, air pollution causes about 400,000 premature deaths in the EU and hundreds of billions of euros in health-related external costs. However, these significant human and economic costs have not yet been reflected in adequate action across the Union, warn the auditors. They add that particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ground level ozone are the air pollutants responsible for most of the early deaths and that people in urban areas are particularly exposed.
EU air quality standards were set almost twenty years ago , and the auditors found that some of them are much weaker than the World Health Organisation guidelines and what the latest scientific evidence suggests. While emissions of air pollutants have been decreasing, most Member States still do not comply with the EU’s air quality standards and are not taking enough effective action to improve air quality, say the auditors.
There is also a risk that air pollution has been underestimated because it may not have been monitored in the right places. Air Quality Plans –a key requirement under the Ambient Airuality Directive – have often not delivered their expected results.
There are limitations in the European Commission’s monitoring of Member States’ performance in meeting air quality targets. Its enforcement procedures so far have not ensured that Member States comply with the air quality limits set by the Directive. Despite the Commission taking legal action against many Member States and achieving favourable rulings, Member States continue to breach air quality limits frequently, say the auditors.
To improve EU air quality, the auditors recommend that:
the European Commission should take more effective action;
the Ambient Air Quality Directive should be updated;
air quality policy should be prioritised and mainstreamed into other EU policies;
public awareness and information should be improved.