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Air Quality

EU “Zero Pollution” Plan Offers Role For Cities But Is Vague On Limits

Joint statement on behalf of Transport & Environment and the Clean Cities Campaign

Originally published on Transport & Environment.
By Eoin Bannon

The EU’s new Zero Pollution Action Plan contains welcome ideas to put cities on a path to zero emissions, but lacks ambition about tightening air pollution limits Europe-wide, Transport & Environment (T&E) has said. The European Commission plan, published today, fails to say if the “Euro 7” limits and the review of the Ambient Air Quality Directives (AAQD) will be in line with what the World Health Organization recommends as safe. The WHO is expected to publish new guidelines in June.

Just aligning the AAQD limits on air pollutants and the Euro 7 standards for vehicles “more closely” with these scientific guidelines is not enough, T&E said. Full alignment is needed. The last standard, Euro 6, was set in 2008 and full enforcement is still lacking today.

Jens Mueller, air quality coordinator at T&E, said: “Europeans deserve to breath clean air after decades of living under toxic, illegal levels of pollution. Today’s strategy sets the right goal of a toxic-free environment but is vague on detail. We need to align our air quality rules with the scientific evidence and the world’s best practice. Vehicle standards like Euro 7 need to be on a par with that.”

The Clean Cities Campaign, a new movement of over 50 grassroots and civil society groups across Europe which is backed by T&E, welcomed the Commission’s proposal to reward cities that make the quickest progress on addressing air pollution. This will complement initiatives announced previously, such as support for 100 cities in their transition towards climate neutrality by 2030 as well as the proposal to hold a “Year of Greener Cities.” But the success of the Zero Pollution Action Plan will depend on the EU setting the right laws. Today more than 100 EU cities breach the legal pollution limits.¹

Barbara Stoll, director of the Clean Cities Campaign, said: “Dirty air is a deadly haze that plagues our cities and damages the health of hundreds of thousands of people across Europe. Only stricter EU laws, which are fully aligned with the newest science, will provide the certainty and stringency that is needed to get cities to move ahead and clean up toxic air.”

Tackling air pollution from transport is overdue: toxic air causes 400,000 premature deaths a year in the EU, with road transport being one of the main sources. As part of the European Green Deal, the EU announced the world’s most ambitious clean air goal — a “zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment” — which today’s action plan was supposed to translate into action.

¹See Zero Pollution Action Plan, “Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil”, page 17.

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