The new European Air Quality Directives reaching the finish line

A post by Silvia Gómez on the latest developments in Europe's air quality legislation and how UBDPolicy is shaping policies aimed at safeguarding the health of citizens.

Published On: 15/05/2024Categories: News

Photo: Paola de Grenet

On 24 April, the European Parliament approved the provisional agreement on the new Air Quality Directive. In October 2022, the Commission proposed a revision of the EU air quality rules in order to set more ambitious air quality standards and measures for 2030. After sixteen months, a provisional agreement with EU countries was reached last month. This agreement will now have to be confirmed again by EU countries before the law can enter into force (with an implementation period).

At UBDPolicy, we are contributing to the development of new and existing urban planning, transport, and environmental policies and initiatives as a means to reach the set objectives and demonstrate the health impacts.

Air pollution causes around 300,000 premature deaths yearly and is the greatest environmental risk to health in Europe. Moreover, almost the entire global population (99%) breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality guidelines and threatens their health. To reduce this burden, the new EU legislation will not only focus on new clean air standards, but will also include new specific measures to significantly improve air quality and prevent air pollution harms. The UBDPolicy project is currently contributing to the development of these kinds of interventions and solutions centered on cities’ specific needs and requirements to be able to find solutions and inform local policies.

The new Directive, aligned with the Zero Pollution Action Plan and the European Green Deal, has set stricter pollutant levels for 2030. However, the fixed limits are still less strict than the maximum ones recommended by the 2021 WHO Air Quality Guidelines. Furthermore, certain Member States will have the possibility of delaying stricter air quality limits until 2040 if justified. On the other hand, together with the stricter environmental pollutant levels, this new Directive will also strengthen monitoring and control systems, promote sustainable mobility, and establish measures to improve public information and awareness about air quality, among other actions. For the negotiations between EU countries and EU-Parliament, the UBDpolicy project published a briefing to underline the health, environmental, and economic consequences of clean air inaction.

The UBDPolicy project contributes to the implementation of the revised Directive, by improving the estimation of health and well-being impacts and socioeconomic costs and benefits of major urban environmental stressors for nearly 1,000 cities in Europe, and studying interventions and policies in 11 cities in depth which may improve air quality and people’s health.

From now on, all European cities will need to be prepared for more health-protective standards and ready to move in the same direction. For example, the Barcelona Metropolitan Area held its first open conference with Catalan politicians, practitioners, and researchers last March to prepare for the above-mentioned changes. The main topics discussed during this meeting were the implementation of the Low Emission Zones (LEZs), the reduction of private vehicle use and electrification of public transport, the use of certified heaters and boilers, urban redesign, reduction of agriculture-related emissions, and goods distribution vehicle routes, among others. Further, this May Catalunya held its Air Quality Technical Conference which focused on how this region needs to adapt its policies and combine efforts to align with the new European Directive.

Given the urgency of this issue and the magnitude of the health impacts across the lifespan, we would have preferred a more ambitious European Directive, but see the revised Directive as an achievement and a key measure to save lives and promote a healthier and more sustainable future in Europe. We will keep working to achieve such goals.

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