What are the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives and how did they come into place?
Clean air is essential to not only our health but also to the environment. However, due to human activities, air quality has deteriorated markedly. These activities are notably linked to industry, energy production, domestic heating, agriculture, and transport.
In the EU, air pollution is the number one environmental health problem. It causes serious illnesses (such as asthma, cardiovascular problems, and lung cancer to name a few). Additionally, air pollution also damages the environment and ecosystems through excess nitrogen pollution and acid rain. It is also costly for our economy.
To tackle air pollution and achieve the EU’s zero pollution vision for 2050, the EU has a comprehensive clean air policy based on three pillars: ambient air quality standards, reducing air pollution emissions, and emissions standards for key sources of pollution.
Since the 1980s, the EU has adopted policies on air quality. The current Ambient Air Quality Directives have inherited many provisions, including many air quality standards from previous legislation. These policies have contributed to the decrease of exceedances for most air pollutants over the past decade. However, the air quality challenge is far from being solved. Although the number of people exposed to air pollution has significantly decreased over recent decades, persistent exceedances above EU air quality standards remain for several air pollutants. These directives were set out to define common methods to monitor, assess and inform on ambient air quality in the EU.
Under these ambient air quality directives, there are several legislations. The EU’s air quality directives – specifically 2008/50/EC Directive on Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe and 2004/107/EC Directive on heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air – set pollutant concentrations thresholds that shall not be exceeded in a given period of time. In case of exceedances, authorities must develop and implement air quality management plans. These plans should aim to bring concentrations of air pollutants to levels below the limit and target values.
Curious what the current standards that the Air Quality Directives are? You can take a look here: EU air quality standards (europa.eu)
How does it affect the internal combustion engine-related industry (moving and non-moving mechanics)?
Different industries will require different measures to best regulate them if we are to tackle air pollution and achieve the EU’s zero pollution vision for 2050. Therefore, the EU developed different directives to determine various standards for both the automotive and industrial industries. Of them are the National Emission reduction Commitments Directive — European Environment Agency (europa.eu) (NEC – for the automotive industry) and EUR-Lex – 32010L0075 – EN – EUR-Lex (europa.eu) for industrial industry emissions.
Overall, just as the EU’s zero pollution vision for 2050 set forth, the directive aims to
- move towards achieving levels of air quality that do not cause significant negative impacts on human health and the environment
- support biodiversity and ecosystem protection
- enhance synergies with other EU objectives, such as climate and energy
Why it is common for people to mistake the Green Deal and the Air Directives?
It is very common for people to mistake the Green Deal for the Air Directives, and vice versa.
Both of the regulations deal with gases and general emissions, but the stark difference that separates the two is the gases and harmful air pollutants they each regulate. While the Green Deal takes Green House Gases (carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3)) into consideration, the Air Directives deal with harmful air pollutants which include NOx, SOx, and different types of particulate matter.
Why is it important to have the Air Quality Directives?
As stated above in the objective, the directives have direct implications for any industry that centralizes internal combustion engines (since the emission will likely be harmful air pollutants and particulate matter). On top of that, with the EU committed to curbing climate change and reducing emissions (EU Emission Standards: Euro 1-Euro 6/VI, and the most recent Euro 7) as well as improving Air Quality, the limitations will only get stricter and more constringent from here on out.
The next step of EU Ambient Air Quality Directives:
As we stand at the moment, there are already plans for revision to synchronize with WHO-suggested standards as well as the upcoming emission standards as part of the Green Deal. In a press release during October 2022, already more contingent measures have been proposed and are in process. Most notably are these:
- The strengthening of the general public’s position against pollution: individuals and communities surrounding affected areas will have rights to claim compensation from the ones who violated the directives.
- Increase access to (important) data: ESG reporting, transparent and open access to data regarding emissions and pollution committed.
The annual limit value for the main pollutant – fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – is proposed to be cut by more than half. The revision will ensure that people suffering health damages from air pollution have the right to be compensated in the case of a violation of EU air quality rules. They will also have the right to be represented by non-governmental organisations through collective actions for damage compensation. The proposal will also bring more clarity on access to justice, effective penalties, and better public information on air quality. New legislation will support local authorities by strengthening the provisions on air quality monitoring, modelling, and improved air quality plans.