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European Commission proposes rules for cleaner air and water

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Autor: Franziska Betz

European Commission proposes rules for cleaner air and water
photo: Pixabay/Dimitris Vetsikas

November 2, 2022 | The European Commission is proposing stronger rules on ambient air, surface and groundwater pollutants, and treatment of urban wastewater.

Clean air and water are essential for the health of people and ecosystems. Air pollution alone means nearly 300,000 Europeans die prematurely each year, and the proposed new rules will reduce deaths resulting from levels of the main pollutant PM2.5 above World Health Organization guidelines by more than 75% in ten years. Across air and water, all of the new rules provide clear return on investment thanks to benefits in health, energy savings, food production, industry, and biodiversity.

Learning the lessons from current laws, the Commission proposes to both tighten allowed levels of pollutants and to improve implementation to ensure pollution reduction goals are more often reached in practice. The proposals are a key advance for the European Green Deal’s zero pollution ambition of having an environment free of harmful pollution by 2050. They also respond to specific demands of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “Our health depends on our environment. An unhealthy environment has direct and costly consequences for our health. Each year, hundreds of thousands Europeans die prematurely and many more suffer from heart- and lung diseases or pollution-induced cancers.

The longer we wait to reduce this pollution, the higher the costs to society.

By 2050, we want our environment to be free of harmful pollutants. That means we need to step up action today. Our proposals to further reduce water and air pollution are a crucial piece of that puzzle.”

Tackle pollution at source

Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said: “The quality of the air we breathe and the water we use is fundamental for our lives and the future of our societies. Polluted air and water harm our health and our economy and the environment, affecting the vulnerable most of all.

It is therefore our duty to clean up air and water for our own and future generations. The cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of prevention. That is why the Commission is acting now to ensure coordinated action across the Union to better tackle pollution at source – locally and cross-border.”

Cleaner ambient air by 2030, zero pollution aim by 2050

The proposed revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives will set interim 2030 EU air quality standards, aligned more closely with World Health Organization guidelines, while putting the EU on a trajectory to achieve zero pollution for air at the latest by 2050, in synergy with climate-neutrality efforts. To this end, we propose a regular review of the air quality standards to reassess them in line with latest scientific evidence as well as societal and technological developments. 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 organisation 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.

The proposals leave it to national and local authorities to determine the specific measures they would take to meet the standards.

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