Air quality has improved considerably in Europe over the past decades, but polluted air is still the biggest environmental health hazard in Europe and globally. According to the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) analysis on air quality data for 2022 and 2023, published today, Europe’s air quality continues improving but, in many areas, especially in cities, pollution remains above recommended safe levels. 

The EEA briefing ‘Europe’s air quality status 2024’ presents data on levels of key air pollutants in Europe in 2022 and 2023 and compares these concentrations to the EU air quality standards and World Health Organization (WHO) health-based guideline levels. The 2022 data are final and validated by reporting countries while the 2023 analysis is based on provisional data. 

Europe’s air quality is improving but EU standards are still not met across Europe, the EEA analysis shows. In 2022, only 2% of European monitoring stations registered fine particulate concentrations above the EU annual limit value. However, almost all Europeans (96%) who live in cities are exposed to concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that are above the WHO guideline level). 

Fine particulate matter is the air pollutant that causes the greatest negative health impacts across Europe. These particles come mainly from solid fuels used for domestic heating, industrial activities and road transport. 

The EEA briefing also shows that there are significant differences between countries and regions, with areas in central and eastern Europe showing higher levels of pollution. In 2022, only Iceland had fine particulate concentrations that were lower than the WHO guideline level. Concentrations higher than the EU limit value were measured in three EU Member States: Croatia, Italy, and Poland. 

The European Green Deal’s zero pollution action plan sets a 2030 target of reducing premature deaths caused by fine particulate matter by at least 55%, compared with 2005 levels, and a long-term goal of no significant health impacts by 2050. Earlier this year, the EU institutions reached an agreement on a proposal to update the ambient air quality directives with the aim to align the EU air quality standards closer to the WHO’s guideline levels and help deliver on the objectives of the zero pollution action plan. 

The EEA briefing is the first analysis in the EEA’s ‘Air quality in Europe 2024’ package. Later this year, the EEA will publish briefings on air pollutant emissions, and on impacts of air pollution on ecosystems and human health. This includes estimates on deaths and ill health that can be attributed to poor air quality. 

Our latest press releases