How to save people, planet and public money? Here is a simple solution

Adopting to the lowest pollution levels can save Europe’s air. Besides protecting the environment, this simple solution can save up to 37,000 lives and 103€ billions in taxpayer money every year. Adapting Europe’s most polluting industry to lower pollution standards is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to clean our air and protect people and public money. How many lives can each European country save? How much public spending can each industrial sector avoid? Check our infographic for the answers. 

If you could click a button and save 37,000 lives, would you do it? This is the question that Upgrading Europe’s Air is asking. New analysis by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air attests to the power of a simple policy: lower pollution limits. Adjusting Europe’s most polluting industry to the lowest achievable pollution limits is a key step towards protecting the environment but it can also save up to 37,000 lives and €103 billion in taxpayer money per year. 

Explore our infographic!

The report Upgrading Europe’s Air shows the potential of this technically feasible policy change. The report assesses the potential health benefits for people and the environment under strong mitigation measures for industry in the EU Member States and the United Kingdom. Industrial activities such as generating power, producing cement and paper or livestock farming can easily adapt thanks to well-established standards, for example the EU Best Available Techniques Reference Document for energy generation. 

In the European Union, the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) is the set of rules that governs the largest industrial sectors. It is currently under review, meaning there’s a once-in-a-generation chance to ensure a pollution-free future. Europe could be groundbreaking in environmental and public health protection if it takes this simple step to lower pollution limits – instead of pushing its own environmental goals and citizens health concerns into another decade of limbo. 


Although portrayed as a global leader in environmental protection, Europe’s industrial pollution regulation has been eroded through the adoption of weak standards, loopholes and a culture that only impose the most lenient limits.

EU rules allow industry to pollute within a certain range, set by Member States, civil society and industry itself. Then, taking into account this range, permit writers at the national level set specific pollution limits for each industrial operation. Between 75% and 85% of all pollution limits are set at the higher end of this range, under-delivering on emissions reduction, at the expense of public health and environmental protection. There is potential pollution reduction that could take place right now, illustrating the need for lower pollution limits.

Pollution emissions from these sectors are controlled through the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), currently under review. The IED can use this potential by asking industry to pollute at the lowest level that is feasible – as already previously established by the very same industry.    


Given the borderless nature of air pollution, a reduction in pollution would benefit the entire continent. Upgrading Europe’s Air shows that taking this step not only boosts pollution prevention but also protects human health and saves public money. If industry across all Europe adapts to lower pollution limits the benefits would be widespread.

Stricter emission limits in the power and industrial sectors would avoid an estimated 120,000 cardiac hospital admissions, over 7 million restricted activity days and 10,000 annual deaths compared with the latest reported emission data. The associated economic savings are estimated at €28 billion per year. The application of stricter measures relating to emissions from intensive livestock would result in 27,000 fewer deaths annually with an estimated yearly economic saving valued at €75 billion. 

Some European countries stand at the forefront of the potential public benefits. By reducing emissions to the lowest feasible limit, Germany has the potential to save around 12,500 lives and reduce public spending by up to €34 billion. France and Poland could each prevent 4,000 human casualties and save €11 billion of taxpayer money. And Italy would save €8 billion and spare almost 3,000 people from related health issues.  


As the Industrial Emissions Directive revision is under way, European policymakers must grasp this once-in-a-generation opportunity.  

It’s time to close the loopholes and re-establish a robust set of the EU law free from industrial erosion. Currently, emission reductions are far behind what is technically feasible and economically viable. And there is no reason to delay, as the tool and techniques required to adhere to stricter emission limits already exist. A swift tightening of pollution limits would cement Europe’s position as a global leader in environmental protection. 

After the disappointing EU Council position, the European Parliament is due to take its position on the matter. A failure to adjust industry to the lowest pollution limits will set Europe back decades with its zero pollution ambition all while sacrificing the environment, people’s health and public money.