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You are here: Home / News / Putting clean air laws in to practice – report shows potential for improvement

Putting clean air laws in to practice – report shows potential for improvement

Air-related legislation in the EU aims to protect human health and the environment from pollution. But this legislation is not always fully implemented. Bridging this gap is the subject of a new publication from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

 Image © Ron Almog

We are risking human health and the environment when clean air legislation is not fully implemented. The air pilot project demonstrates the potential for cities and European partners to build capacity and learn from each other in improving implementation.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

The report is the result of collaboration between the EEA, the European Commission and 12 cities which participated in the Air Implementation Pilot project: Antwerp (Belgium), Berlin (Germany), Dublin (Ireland), Madrid (Spain), Malmö (Sweden), Milan (Italy), Paris (France), Ploiesti (Romania), Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Prague (Czech Republic), Vienna (Austria), and Vilnius (Lithuania).

The report, ‘Air implementation pilot – Lessons learnt from the implementation of air quality legislation at urban level’, will be launched today in Brussels at Green Week, the annual EU environmental policy conference.

Several air quality standards are still regularly exceeded in Europe, even though some of these limits were established more than a decade ago. The most problematic pollutants are particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen oxides (NO2) and ozone (O3), which still affect people’s quality and length of life in many areas.

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, said: “We must resolve the implementation deficit urgently, to pave the way for deeper reductions in air pollution and its impacts on our lives.  That is why I asked the EEA to set up the cities pilot, and the lessons learned will be taken up in the forthcoming review of EU air policy.”

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “We are risking human health and the environment when clean air legislation is not fully implemented. The air pilot project demonstrates the potential for cities and European partners to build capacity and learn from each other in improving implementation.”

Main findings of the project

  • Almost all cities kept emissions inventories listing the pollutants released, but using different methodologies – making it difficult to compare between different cities or regions. Many of these inventories do not take into account all pollutants, the report says. Some experts from cities underlined the need for better input data to inventories and more training and guidance.
  • Air quality modelling varies significantly between different cities. In some cases, modelling is hampered by issues with data in the original inventories. Some cities also had problems with other input data used in modelling, for example meteorological data or city topography. Many city representatives said that the results of models were often highly complex, and therefore required a lot of resources to interpret.
  • Experts participating in the Air Implementation Pilot suggested more detailed requirements regarding the location and representativeness criteria for monitoring stations.
  • Most of the pollution-reduction measures taken by cities are traffic-related. Some representatives of the cities said they were uncertain about how to evaluate the effectiveness of measures, and their costs and benefits. This situation would be improved with better inventories and modelling tools, the report concludes. The experts also asked for further support in the form of new EU regulations.
  • Most cities are promptly providing information to the public as required by legislation, mostly through dedicated air quality websites. In general, the cities make little use of mass media, social media and new technologies like smartphone applications, the report says.

Potential of industrial emissions reductions

In a forthcoming assessment, the EEA will look at the potential for cutting air pollution from selected power plants in the European Union. The analysis will consider the emissions reduction if all plants had met the emission limit values set by various pieces of EU legislation and guidance documents, including the Industrial Emission Directive (IED).

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