31 October, 2023
Clean air in Europe: no delay, no exemptions, no more pollution – an ERS/ELF position statement
In a new position statement, the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and the European Lung Foundation (ELF) have urged EU environment ministers to prioritise health and follow the science on health effects of air pollution, as the EU Environment Council prepares to adopt its position on the revision of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD).
In the statement, ERS and ELF reiterate the importance of fully aligning new EU air quality standards with the World Health Organization (WHO) 2021 Air Quality Guidelines. ERS and ELF also express great concern with a potential five-year delay in alignment until 2035.
Full alignment of EU air quality standards with WHO guidelines will improve lung health, prevent substantial numbers of new cases of lung diseases and improve quality of life for respiratory patients, say respiratory experts.
A delay of five years or more will result in the following damaging consequences:
Delays cost money
The main argument against a strict new AAQD are concerns about the costs of clean air regulations and their economic burden – however, the opposite is the case
Delays cost lives
In Europe, fine particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5) caused 412,000 premature deaths in 2020, and of these, 238,000 were at the levels above WHO 2021 AQG for PM2.5 of 5 μg/m3 (EEA, 2022).
Delays mean missed opportunities for economic growth
Cleaning the air does not suppress, but it supports economic growth
Delays mean missed opportunity for elimination of energy poverty in Europe
An ambitious AAQD could be the opportunity needed to eliminate energy poverty, create new jobs in providing alternative affordable heating sources
Prof. Zorana J. Andersen, Chair of the ERS Environment and Health Committee, said:
“Fully aligning the EU air quality standards with WHO 2021 guidelines by 2030 will be a vital step towards clean air for all in Europe.
“Clean air improves lung health, helps prevent new disease and reduces the economic burden of treating respiratory illness.
“Hundreds of thousands of premature deaths are caused in Europe each year as a result of fine particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5); a delay in full alignment from 2030 to 2035 would cost around 600,000 premature deaths over the five-year delay period. This is unacceptable.
“The reality is also that air pollution is already posing huge costs to Europe’s economies. The EC Cost Benefit Analysis showed clearly that the cost of cleaning up the air and aligning EU air quality with WHO guidelines by 2030 is around €7 billion annually – much lower than the cost of inaction of €45 billion.
“As the EU Environment Council prepares to adopt its position on the revision of the AAQD, it’s vital that environment ministers follow the science and keep health at the centre of any agreement.”