EU set to impose stricter air pollution limits

National Emissions Ceiling Directive to put further national limits on toxic pollutants such as NO2 and particulates

Plans for tighter national caps on the levels of dangerous air pollutants in EU member states have moved a step closer to fruition, after a compromise deal was passed by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) and member states.

The ENVI today voted in favour of a new deal on the National Emissions Ceiling Directive (NECD), which aims to cut the number of premature deaths from air pollution by around half across member states by 2030 by setting limits on the emissions of several hazardous pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulates.

The deal, which will ensure for the first time that all polluting sectors – including agriculture – have to take action to tackle emissions, could see up to 25,000 lives saved in the UK by 2030, assuming the country retains the proposed rules post-Brexit.

The legislation will put a legal limit on emissions to ensure they result in a 49.6 per cent health improvement, after a compromise was reached between the parliaments and council’s proposed targets of a 52 per cent and 48 per cent improvement, respectively.

Despite initially pushing for a stronger deal, Seb Dance, Labour MEP and lead member of the European Parliament’s negotiating team on the NECD, said the parliament decided to settle for a compromise since failure to secure the deal before the end of the Dutch Presidency of the Council in June risked significantly delaying action on air pollution.

“With time running out and up against the intransigence of member states, this is the best deal we can deliver to protect the public without the whole thing being kicked into the long grass,” said Dance. “This is not a time for principled opposition; 50,000 British lives are lost prematurely every year because of air pollution and the stakes are simply too high for this report to fail.”

Dance also accused the UK government of being a key player in blocking a far higher level of ambition, alongside the governments of France, Italy, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.

“The UK government has used its considerable weight in the council to lead a coalition of the unwilling, successfully lobbying MEPs and other member states to weaken the overall ambition level of air pollution targets,” said Dance.

The next step for the agreement will be a vote by the EU Parliament as a whole, which is expected in October or November.

The UK is already in breach of current EU pollution limits, with a fresh challenge from environmental law firm ClientEarth launched earlier this year after a new plan by the government only set out measures to bring the UK within legal air pollution limits by 2025 at the earliest, 15 years after the initial legal deadline for compliance.

While it remains uncertain whether legislation under the NECD will apply once the UK has left the EU, if it remains part of the European Economic Area (EEA) single market it is likely the NECD directive would continue to take affect, as it does for Norway. The legislation will also continue to apply in the UK during the two years of negotiations after Article 50 is triggered. In the case of the UK leaving the EEA, individual pieces of legislation including the NECD could be repealed if the UK government chose to do so.

Source: EU set to impose stricter air pollution limits

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