European Commission tackles Member States over failure to act on air quality

20 February, 2017

On 15 February, the European Commission issued reasoned opinions to the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy for failing to address repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) laid down in the Ambient Air Quality Directive.

A reasoned opinion is a formal request to a Member State to comply with EU law. It requires that Member States officially inform the Commission of the measures taken to remedy their failure to comply within a specified period – usually two months. In the event of continued failure to comply, the next step would see Member States brought before the European Court of Justice.

EU legislation on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (Directive 2008/50/EC) sets air quality limits that cannot be exceeded anywhere in the EU, and obliges Member States to limit the exposure of citizens to harmful air pollutants.

To date legal action on NO2 involves 12 Member States, with ongoing infringement cases against Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Road traffic is responsible for around 40% of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions in the EU. At ground-level, the relative contribution of traffic is much higher (as emissions from high industrial stacks are diluted before reaching the ground). Of the total emitted NOx from traffic, around 80% comes from diesel powered vehicles.

The ERS Environment and Health Committee calls on all EU Member States to adopt measures to improve air quality and reduce pollution from all sources.