New Clean Air Policy Package (EU)

A new Clean Air Policy Package is adopted by the European Commission in December 2013.

Here is the link to the new EU Clean Air Package. See below extracts from the Commission’s Q&A document:

What are the main components of the clean air policy package?

(A) A Clean Air Programme for Europe, which describes the problem and sets out new interim objectives for reducing health and environmental impacts up to 2030. It also defines the necessary emission reduction requirements for the key pollutants and the policy agenda that will be necessary to achieve the objectives.

(B) A revised National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD), containing updated national ceilings (caps) for six key air pollutants (PM, SO2, NOx, VOCs, NH3 and CH4) for 2020 and 2030.

(C) A new Directive for Medium-sized Combustion Plants between 1 and 50 MWth.

(D) A ratification proposal for the amended Gothenburg Protocol under the 1979 UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

What is the difference between EU air pollution emission ceilings and EU air quality standards?

EU national emission ceilings are upper limits for total emissions of certain air pollutants that Member States will have to respect by a certain date, to push down background concentrations and limit transboundary air pollution. Existing ceilings are in place for 2010, as set out in the UNECE Gothenburg Protocol in 1999 and the EU National Emission Ceilings Directive, NECD (2001/81/EC). New ceilings (which are called national emission reduction commitments) for 2020 were agreed recently in a revised Gothenburg Protocol, and are proposed for 2020 and 2030 in a revised NECD as part of the clean air policy package.

EU air quality standards are local concentration limit values for the air pollutants most harmful to health, as set out in the EU ambient air quality Directive, AAQD (2008/50/EC), which have to be respected everywhere in the EU with a view to provide a general protection for all against harmful air pollution levels. Achieving the air quality standards often require a combination of local measures addressing particular air pollution hotspots, and reducing background emissions by implementing the NECD. The AAQD entered into force as late as 2010, and has not been revised as part of the air policy review.

Why was the existing EU air quality standards in the Ambient Air Quality Directive not revised? Are they not too weak compared to the WHO standards?

The existing air quality standards in the Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD) were carefully examined in the review, and it is clear that they are insufficient in relation to the WHO air quality guidelines on air pollution, which represent the levels where health risks are minimized. But it is also clear that further tightening existing EU air quality standards will be ineffective unless we see real cuts in air pollution from the main sources. As many Member States are currently facing infringement cases for failing to reach existing standards, proposing stricter standards at this point in time may prove counter-productive. Instead, the new policy proposes stricter emission ceilings in the revised NECD and, together with new source legislation, this will pave the way for tightened standards in the Ambient Air Quality Directive at a later stage.

Nevertheless, the Commission will also consider simplifying the implementing measures of the Ambient Air Quality Directive without revising the core obligations, in the context of comitology.

Why is a new Directive to cut emissions from Medium-sized Combustion Plants needed?

The review of air policy that preceded this package of measures revealed a gap in EU source legislation for smaller energy plants for street blocks or large buildings, and small industry installations (1-50 MWth). This new instrument is designed to close this gap and make a significant contribution to reduce pollution of NOx, SO2 and PM by setting limit values for new and existing installations, together with a simple registration scheme. In this way, the Directive will help deliver a significant part of Member States’ emission reduction obligations. The Directive is also necessary to avoid possible trade-offs between air quality and increased biomass use, which may otherwise result in increased air pollution.

Does this proposal go far enough – isn’t the time frame of 2050 to achieve the WHO air quality guidelines is too far away?

The WHO air quality guidelines are very challenging, especially in air pollution hotspots such as large cities. The proposed policy is based on available technology, and represents a careful balance between benefits and costs. It sets the pathway to significant improvements in the long term, but with the help of larger, more structural changes, such as moving to a low carbon economy, progress will be faster. If we agree on an ambitions post 2020 climate package, for which the Commission will present a proposal in 2014, overall air policy objectives can be reached well before 2050.

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