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On March 5th, the Ministers of Environment of the EU Member States adopted a set of conclusions on the improvement of air quality in Europe. Breathing clean air, whether indoors or outdoors, is a human right, and a premise to preserve health for people living with chronic non-communicable diseases, such as asthma, allergy and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

EU will include air quality norms into more sectoral policies

The Council adoption of the air quality conclusions was the final step in a lengthy debate among Member States. These conclusions by national governments follow the results of a detailed examination of the Ambient Air Quality Directives (so called fitness check), an exercise the European Commission has carried out in the last two years.

In a testimony of a unified approach, and due to an ambitious wording put forward by Austria and the Netherlands, the Council announced that it welcomes initiatives revising EU air quality standards.

The conclusions are also meant to provide political guidance in view of the legislations framed by the EU Green Deal, and to pave the way for upcoming institutional discussions and actions.

For example, the Council ‘invites the Commission to ensure that any proposals for EU emission source legislation sufficiently contribute to reaching air quality standards’, which favors a more integrated approach.

More importantly, the Council pinpoints to the sectoral legislation that will need to include air quality considerations, as it recognizes that ‘the main air pollution sources in the EU are transport, both road and non-road; the commercial, institutional and households sector, including residential heating; energy production and distribution; energy use in industry; industrial processes and product use; agriculture and waste’.

Air pollution is a major health risk factor in Europe

Air pollution remains the deadliest environmental health risk factor, leading to more than 400,000 premature deaths in Europe and over four million premature deaths globally. Together with the results of the fitness check, published in November 2019, these numbers imply that despite significant progress, there is still considerable room for improvement of air quality in the EU.

In particular, concerning people with chronic conditions such as allergy, asthma and COPD, who are most negatively affected by pollution, bad air quality leads to the exacerbation of symptoms and even worsening of patients’ conditions.

EFA therefore, welcomes the European Commissions’ ambition towards a Zero Air Pollution, an Action Plan foreseen for 2021, and supports the recommended revision of the Air Quality Directives.

EU air quality standards to be aligned with WHO recommendations

The Commissions’ Zero Air Pollution Plan will propose closer alignment of EU air quality standards with the science-based and future WHO Air Quality Guidelines, are expected to be presented later this year. EFA is part of the reviewing task force to provide the perspective of the most vulnerable, the chronic respiratory patients.

EFA participates in joint letter to European environment ministers

To express support to the Zero Air Pollution Plan, EFA signed a joint letter addressed to the Environment ministers of the EU. Along with the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), the European Respiratory Society (ERS), the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) and the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), EFA emphasises the latest scientific evidence showing that, no matter if indoors or outdoors, there is no safe level of pollution.

EFA further stresses the importance for commitment towards the alignment with the WHO guidelines in the strongest possible manner, reflecting the urgency to act at all levels within a structure to ensure improved air quality and better health protection in Europe.

The Environmental Council Conclusions can be found here.