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Most European city dwellers are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution. Improving air quality to match World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended levels could prevent more than half of premature deaths caused by exposure to fine particulate matter.
Premature deaths in Europe in 2021
from chronic exposure to fine particulate matter
from chronic nitrogen dioxide exposure
from acute ozone exposure
Source: EEA, 2023, 'Harm to human health from air pollution in Europe: burden of disease 2023'.
Reducing emissions of air pollutants in Europe
Europe has put in place legislation to reduce emissions from harmful air pollutants. The National Emission reduction Commitments Directive (NECD) sets national emission reduction commitments for Member States and the EU for five important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These pollutants contribute to poor air quality, leading to significant negative impacts on human health and the environment.
Every year, the EEA publishes the most recent reported data and a briefing on the EU Member States' progress in meeting their emission reduction commitments.
In 2021, 13 Member States met their respective 2020-2029 national emission reduction commitments for each of the five main pollutants, while 13 Member States failed to do so for at least one of the five main air pollutants. For one Member State, the status is unknown because its national inventory was not reported.
The biggest challenge for the period 2020-2029 is reducing ammonia emissions: 10 Member States need to cut their 2021 emission levels to fulfil their 2020-2029 reduction commitments. The agriculture sector is the principal source, responsible for 93% of total ammonia emissions. Since 2005, ammonia emissions have only slightly decreased in many Member States and in some cases have increased.
Check air quality at any time: European Air Quality Index & App
How clean is the air you’re breathing right now?
The European Air Quality Index provides information on the current air quality situation based on measurements from more than 2000 air quality monitoring stations across Europe.
The Index allows citizens to use an interactive map to check the air quality at station level, based on five key pollutants that harm people's health and the environment: namely particulate matter (both PM2.5 and PM10), ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.
The index is also available as an app for mobile phones in all EU languages.