Governments across the EU could soon face a new round of tough new air pollution targets, after MEPs on the European parliament’s environment committee narrowly voted in favour of fresh round of air quality standards.
The committee on Wednesday voted 38 in favour and 28 against, backing a new package of measures that would require member states to meet limits on six pollutants by 2030.
The MEPs also voted for interim binding targets for 2025 for all of the designated pollutants except methane and backed plans for tougher rules on emissions testing, including specific tests for diesel vehicles that have been blamed for poor air quality in many European cities.
The committee said the targets would prevent an estimated 74,200 premature deaths a year, 16,200 more than the commission’s original proposal, and lead to health savings worth between £28bn and £98bn.
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“This is an invisible killer that we cannot afford to ignore,” said Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearde, who backed the new plan. “More than 10 times as many people die in the UK each year as a result of air pollution than from accidents on our roads. If people were being forced to drink dirty water rather than breathing dirty air, no one would be questioning the need to take action.”
The package will now move to a full vote of the European parliament this autumn, although elements of the proposed programme are likely to face opposition from member states and some industries.
The UK government is known to be opposed to the adoption of interim targets for 2025 and the MEPs voted for ammonia and methane to be included in the list of pollutants, despite opposition from the farming lobby and the UK and French governments.
However, if adopted the new regulations would increase pressure on governments and businesses to introduce a host of new policies and technologies to curb air pollution levels, such as electric vehicles, congestion charging and restrictions, and increased investment in public transport.
The discussion around a new wave of targets is further complicated by the fact a number of member states, including the UK, are still struggling to comply with current air quality standards.
The UK government is currently working on a major new strategy to tackle the UK’s air pollution after the supreme court ruled it was in breach of air regulations.
The vote comes on the same day as London mayor Boris Johnson issued new estimates from Kings College for how many premature deaths can be attributed to NO2 air pollution. The study estimates there are 5,900 premature attributable deaths in the capital due to NO2, rising to 9,400 premature deaths when particulate emissions are also accounted for.
“The better we understand the science of air pollution, the more we can see that the health impacts are dire,” said Green London assembly member Jenny Jones. “The government and London’s City Hall have failed to deal with this issue for the past 15 years. These new figures on premature deaths show how much work the next Mayor will have to do.”