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European Commission proposes Thematic Strategy on air pollution

22 September 2005

As a next step of the CAFE (Clean Air for Europe) program, the European Commission proposed a Thematic Strategy on air pollution, designed to achieve further improvements in air quality across Europe. The Strategy aims by 2020 to cut the annual number of premature deaths from air pollution-related diseases, as well as to reduce the area of forests and other ecosystems suffering damage from airborne pollutants. The Strategy pays special attention to fine particulates and ground level ozone pollution. Under the Strategy the Commission is proposing to start regulating fine airborne particulates (PM2.5). The Commission also proposes to streamline air quality legislation by merging existing legal instruments into a single Ambient Air Quality Directive.

According to modeling by the Commission, the Strategy will reduce the number of premature deaths related to fine particulate matter and ozone from 370,000 a year in 2000 to 230,000 in 2020. Without the Strategy there would still be over 290,000 premature deaths a year in 2020. The Strategy will deliver health benefits worth an estimated €42 billion per year through fewer premature deaths, less sickness, fewer hospital admissions, improved labor productivity etc. The cost of implementing the Strategy is estimated at around €7.1 billion per annum, or about 0.05% of EU-25 GDP in 2020.

The proposed new Ambient Air Quality Directive would introduce a new approach in controlling PM2.5 exposures. Rather than legislating one universal ambient concentration limit, it would require reductions in average PM2.5 concentrations throughout each Member State, and set a cap on concentrations in the most polluted areas.

Among planned measures affecting the transport sector, the Commission confirmed its intention to introduce new Euro 5 set of emission standards for light duty vehicles, followed by Euro VI emission standards for heavy-duty engines. A draft Euro 5 proposal was published in July 2005.

The air pollution Strategy is one of seven Thematic Strategies the Commission is required to prepare under the EU’s Sixth Environmental Action Programme (6EAP). The other Strategies will cover the marine environment, waste prevention and recycling, sustainable use of resources, soils, pesticides and the urban environment. They are due to be presented over the next few months. The Thematic Strategies address the issues in a holistic way that takes into account links with other problems and policy areas.

European Commission: press release | FAQ | proposal COM(2005) 446 | Ambient Air Quality Directive COM(2005) 447