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You are here: Home / Environmental topics / Air pollution / Policy context

Policy context

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Within the European Union, the Sixth Environment Action Programme (6th EAP) aims to achieve levels of air quality that do not result in unacceptable impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment. The EU acts at many levels to reduce exposure to air pollution: through legislation, through co-operation with sectors responsible for air pollution, through national, regional authorities and non-government organisations and through research. EU policies aim to reduce exposure to air pollution by reducing emissions and setting limits and target values for air quality.

The Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) programme, established under the 6th EAP, provided long-term, strategic and integrated policy advice concerning air pollution. The 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, underpinned by the CAFE programme, sets out ambitious but cost-effective objectives and measures for European air quality policy to 2020. 

New! - Review of EU Air policy

The European Commission has recently launched a comprehensive review of the EU air quality legislation, building on the 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution and Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) initiatives and including the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD).

Emissions of air pollutants

At a Member State level, the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive) imposes emission ceilings (or limits) for emissions of four key air pollutants (nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, non-methane volatile organic compounds and ammonia) that harm human health and the environment. Information concerning the revision of the NEC Directive is available on the website of the European Commission's DG Environment here.

Other key EU legislation is targeted at reducing emissions of air pollutants from specific sources, for example:

Internationally, the issue of air pollution emissions is also being addressed by the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (the LRTAP Convention) and its protocols. The Gothenburg ‘multi-pollutant’ protocol under the LRTAP Convention contains national emission ceilings that, for the EU Member States, are either equal to or less ambitious than those in the EU NEC Directive.

Air quality

The EU’s new air quality directive, the Directive on Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe, is one of the key measures in place to address air pollution under the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution. It is the first EU directive to include limits on ambient concentrations of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter). It also consolidates various existing pieces of air quality legislation into a single directive. Governments have been given two years (from 11 June 2008) to bring their legislation in line with the provisions of the Directive.

Until then, the existing EU air quality policy framework remains in place. This legislation has established health-based standards and objectives for a number of air pollutants and includes:

  • The Air Quality Framework Directive. This describes the basic principles concerning the assessment and management of air quality in the Member States. The Directive also lists the pollutants for which air quality standards and objectives have been developed and specified in subsequent legislation (the four ‘Daughter’ Directives);
  • The ‘Exchange of Information’ Decision, which establishes a reciprocal exchange of information and data from networks and individual stations measuring ambient air pollution within the EU Member States.

More information on air pollution policies and legislation: European Commission's Environment Directorate-General

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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Phone: +45 3336 7100