EU failing to protect citizens against air pollution, according to European Court of Auditors.
The European Union does not sufficiently protect the health of its inhabitants against air pollution, according to a report by the European Court of Auditors published on Tuesday.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution is responsible for 400,000 premature deaths each year, “a human and economic cost that has not triggered appropriate action at EU level”, says the European Court of Auditors.
The report takes aim at the Ambient Air Quality Directive, adopted in 2008, saying that the directive’s standards are “much less stringent than the WHO guidelines”, as they allow thresholds to be exceeded frequently and do not include a daily exposure limit for fine particles (PM2.5).
Despite these criticisms, the directive has helped to reduce emissions of air pollutants: – 89% for sulfur dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2015, – 56% for nitrogen dioxide emissions, and – 26% for emissions of fine particles (PM2.5) since 2000. But this does not translate into reductions of similar magnitude in terms of air pollutant concentrations. Also, the report says that the level of air pollution is underestimated because it is not being measured in strategic locations (near roads or industrial sites), says the Court.
Another criticism is that Member States do not implement the directive. In 2016, 13 Member States exceeded the limit values for fine particles and 19 for nitrogen dioxide. And the coercive measures taken by the European Commission do little to curb the emissions. France, for example, was only sent to court last May for non-compliance with the thresholds for nitrogen dioxide, after unsuccessful warnings since 2005.
More broadly, countries do not take sufficient account of the need to reduce air pollution in their public policies (transport, energy, industry, agriculture, etc.) the Court says.
The report recommended more effective action by the European Commission, through the sharing of good practice by Member States or shorter infringement procedures. It calls on the Commission to revise the Ambient Air Quality Directive, in line with WHO guidelines, and to improve the location of pollution measurement stations. Finally, the Court of Auditors calls on the EU to prioritise air quality improve awareness and among the public, with the help of health professionals.