Policy context

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Page Last modified 17 Jan 2017
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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.

The 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution underpins the European Union's air pollution policy. It sets out ambitious but cost-effective objectives and measures for European air quality policy to 2020. 

New! - Proposed Clean Air Policy Package

In late 2013, the European Commission proposed a new Clean Air Policy Package for Europe which 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:

  • A proposal for a revised NEC Directive, with new national emission reduction commitments from 2020 and 2030 for the current four pollutants and two additional ones (fine particulate matter and methane).  
  • A proposal for a new Directive on Medium Combustion Plants, to limit emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter from medium sized combustion installations. It proposes emission limit values for new and existing installations.
  • Additional proposed 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 proposed package: European Commission's Environment Directorate-General.

The EEA closely supported the European Commission's development of the proposed Clean Air Policy Package, including by leading activities with selected European cities in the Air Implementation Pilot.

Emissions of air pollutants

At a Member State level, the existing 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. 

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

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100