European Respiratory Society calls for ‘decisive action’ to achieve clean air in Europe for all

European Respiratory Society calls for ‘decisive action’ to achieve clean air in Europe for all - article image

5 June, 2023

The European Respiratory Society (ERS) and its partners have called for ‘decisive action’ from the European Union and the broader health community to achieve clean air in Europe for all, highlighting the alarming statistics of deaths and diseases attributed to air quality across the continent.

The overwhelming majority (97.5 percent) of Europeans are exposed to harmful levels of air pollution, with an increasing need for immediate action from the EU and broader health community to curb the impact of air pollution on the environment and public health, according to Professor Zorana J Andersen, ERS Environment and Health Committee Chair.

Prof. Andersen presented alarming and compelling evidence highlighting the detrimental impact of air pollution on public health as she joined other international experts, policymakers and scientists at a recent Clean Air in Europe for All conference in Brussels, Belgium to analyse proposed revisions to EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD).

“Air pollution and climate change are inseparable issues. Reducing air pollution and mitigating climate change should be dealt with together to help protect our health,” said Prof. Andersen.

The pollution burden on the population is huge, with an ever-increasing mortality impact. An average of seven million premature deaths are caused by exposure to air pollution each year, as reported at the conference by Dr Maria Neira – Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health at the World Health Organization (WHO).

To achieve the ambitious goal and feasibility of zero air pollution by 2050, with an interim target of 2030, requires the EU to fully align its Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD) with the air quality standards set by the WHO.

“We need the European Union as a champion on the adoption of the WHO standards,” said Dr Neira.

“We know that those are ambitious, but how can you not be ambitious when you are talking about protecting people’s health?”

Key stakeholders have made it clear that pollution exposure at all ages influences health and disease across the entire life course – including the physical health of adults and the cognitive growth of children.

Javi Lopez, Member of the European Parliament, said: “Tackling air pollution requires a multifaceted approach that engages all sectors, necessitating the collaboration of policymakers, researchers, healthcare professionals, and civil society.

“It is a battle that requires political will, public support, and an unwavering commitment to prioritise human lives over all else.”

Virginijus Sinkevicius, European Commissioner for Environment, emphasised: “Despite improvements, pollution remains the largest environmental threat to our health and a significant challenge for our economy. It disproportionately affects vulnerable populations.

“We need to ensure that our co-legislators have a solid understanding of the evidence base and the measures that work best to reduce this pollution.”

ERS calls for swift adoption of the new EU Air Quality Directive. By aligning the Directive with the WHO air quality standards and improving on existing interventions to tackle air pollution, Europe can take significant steps towards achieving the zero-pollution target and safeguarding public health.

The Clean Air in Europe for All conference was organised by ERS in partnership with the Health Effects Institute (HEI) and the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE).

Read more about ERS advocacy activities.

Public health