European Parliament votes on National Emission Ceilings Directive

On Wednesday 23 November the European Parliament approved the final version of the National Emission Ceilings Directive.

ERS has been following the NEC Directive legislative file since its publication, and actively worked to secure the best possible outcome from a health perspective. The vote this week will be followed by a formal adoption by the Council in early December. It is expected to enter into force on 31 December or in the course of January 2017.

Some positive changes

  • The new targets for the main air pollutants, for all 28 EU Member States, will result in approximately 78,000 fewer premature deaths due to PM pollution in the EU in 2030 (compared to 2030 baseline figures).
  • The targets are expected to drive action for fine particles (PM2.5) and ammonia in particular, two pollutants of great health and environmental concern.
  • Efforts to cut PM and ammonia will have to translate into new measures to tackle domestic heating emissions (PM) and intensive farming (NH3).
  • The content and procedures around the adoption of national air pollution programmes (NAPCPs) is significantly improved, notably by making public consultation mandatory and requiring regular updates of the measures aimed at improving air quality.

More could be achieved

  • The targets are not ambitious enough, due to very strong lobby by a majority of national governments including the largest and most polluting countries (e.g. UK, Italy, Poland, Spain, and France). The Commission proposal supported by the European Parliament would have saved around 12,000 additional lives every year.
  • Methane is excluded from the directive, due to pressure by Member States and intense farming lobby in Brussels and EU capitals. The agriculture lobby was also successful in significantly weakening ammonia targets.
  • Late action: 2020 targets are low and 2025 targets non-mandatory, making the 2030 targets the only driver for action – nearly 15 years from now. First breaches of the 2030 targets will be found in 2032 (when Member States will report their 2030 missions).
  • The multiplication of “get-out-of-jail free cards” such adjustments of inventories, a three-year average system, and pollution swapping mechanisms which will allow Member States breaching their targets to escape infringement actions.

Coincidently, the vote took place on the same day as the European Environment Agency released its 2016 Air Quality in Europe report which shows that in 2014 around 85% of the urban population in the EU were exposed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at levels deemed harmful to health by the World Health Organization (WHO). Following the vote, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella stated, "Bad air is an invisible killer, yet the European Environment Agency's latest report shows us that a very high proportion of EU citizens are exposed to excessive pollution. This is why we are faced with 400,000 premature deaths every year. That figure is set to half through the new National Emission Ceilings Directive. Following the Commission's proposal in 2013, the European Parliament voted today by a big majority in favour of the deal struck with Member States in Council, which is expected to follow suit. As a result, we will see major reductions in 5 pollutants, thus improving our quality of life and reducing health costs. Towns and cities will play a major role in tackling the sources of some of these pollutants, individually and in coordination, as a high proportion of these pollutants cross borders. Other sources for pollutants include the agricultural sector. Farmers will therefore have a significant contribution to make."

Speaking on the impact of the Directive ERS Environment and Health Committee Chair Prof Bert Brunekreef outlined, "Air pollution is a problem we’re all causing together, and one we’re all suffering from. This is not something that can be dealt with on a local or even national level: air pollution has no borders. It’s also something that cannot be dealt with by just one sector, be it transportation, space heating, energy production, industry or agriculture. Emissions from all sectors mix and react to produce the pollutants that today are causing so much harm in Europe. All sectors must therefore contribute to the solution, and policymakers should ensure that we’re all shouldering the burden together. The potential benefits are huge. The longer we take to make tough decisions, the bigger the challenge we’ll face in the future."