Air Monitoring

  • How Many EU States Are on Track for Air Pollution Targets?

How Many EU States Are on Track for Air Pollution Targets?

Jul 07 2020 Read 440 Times

The European Commission has published its first report on how member states are progressing towards achieving their objectives as laid out in the National Emissions reduction Commitments (NEC) Directive – and the results don’t make for encouraging reading. Over half of the 27 countries are unlikely to meet their 2020 goals, while more than 80% will miss out on their 2030 aims if they do not improve their practices soon.

The report is based upon projections made by each individual country over the amount of emissions they expect to produce in 2020. The authors of the report concede that their analysis is far from conclusive – especially given that several countries missed the deadline for submitting their projections, while others have only submitted a draft document or, in two cases, no documents at all. However, it still points to the long road ahead for EU states to clean up their act and achieve the lofty ambitions laid out in the Clean Air Programme.

What is the NEC Directive?

First launched on December 31st 2016, the NEC Directive is the EC’s main legislative tool in enforcing the objectives defined by the Clean Air Programme. Among other goals, the EC has targeted a 50% decrease in the negative health impacts of poor air quality by 2030 across all member states, with concurrent benefits for the environment.

In particular, the NEC Directive governs emissions for five different pollutants. These are ammonia (NH3), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and sulphur dioxide (SO2). The targets delineated for the years 2020 to 2029 are already clearly defined, with even more ambitious targets set to follow from 2030 onwards.

Disappointing results

Frequent monitoring of the air quality found in cities and further afield is crucial to assessing how well EU member states are progressing towards the Clean Air Programme goals – and the first report does not make for encouraging reading. A mere 10 (37%) of the 27 nations are on track to achieve their 2020 goals according to current practices, sparking concern that not enough is being done in over half of the bloc.

Meanwhile, the 2030 targets now appear to be even more unattainable. According to the EC’s report, just four EU states are in line to achieve their goals. Croatia, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Finland have put in place a blueprint for success that other nations should be encouraged to follow, but the fact that the other 23 are not close to adhering to their targets should set alarm bells ringing.

Instigating change

The current upheaval caused by coronavirus – and the environmental impact of the pandemic – have brought the topic of air quality into sharp focus. With much of the continent having experienced some form of quarantine over the last three months, air pollution had fallen dramatically in many EU countries. However, levels of NO2 and other pollutants are beginning to creep up now that restrictions are being relaxed.

With the world at something of a crossroads, it’s high time that governments across Europe and beyond used the present predicament to instigate real change. First on the list for EU countries should be curbing the widespread use of ammonia in fertilisers and pesticides, which continued unabated during the COVID-19 crisis and which is one of the most common and most damaging contributors to air pollution and climate change, according to the EC.

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