Policy context

Page Last modified 03 Mar 2021
2 min read
Within the European Union, the Seventh Environment Action Programme (7EAP) 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.

Clean Air Policy Package

In 2013, the European Commission adopted a Clean Air Policy Package for Europe. This package of measures aims to achieve full compliance with existing air quality legislation by 2020 and further improve Europe’s air quality by 2030 and thereafter. 

It includes:

  • An updated National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive, with emission ceilings for the years from 2010 onward, and new national emission reduction commitments from 2020 and 2030.  
  • A new Directive on Medium Combustion Plants, to limit emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter from medium sized combustion installations. The directive proposes emission limit values for new and existing installations.
  • Additional actions focusing on air quality in cities, national and local actions supported by EU funds, as well as a reinforced research and innovation agenda.

More information on the EU's approach to managing air pollution is available from the European Commission's Environment Directorate-General.

Emissions of air pollutants

At a Member State level, the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive) imposes emission ceilings (or limits) for emissions of five key air pollutants (nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, non-methane volatile organic compounds, ammonia and fine particulate matter) that harm human health and the environment. 

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. The Protocol was amended in 2012 to include national emission reduction commitments to be achieved in 2020 and beyond, including fine particulate matter.

Air quality

The EU’s air quality directives (the 2008 Directive on Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe and the 2004 Directive on heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient airaddress air pollution under the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution. Both describe the basic principles concerning the assessment and management of air quality and set pollutant concentrations thresholds that shall not be exceeded. In case of exceedances, authorities must develop and implement air quality management plans.

New requirements with regard to the reporting and exchange of air quality information apply as from 1 January 2014, following the approval in 2011 of a Commission Decision on the reciprocal exchange of information and reporting

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