A Reality Check on the Industrial Emissions Directive 

The Industrial Emissions Directive is a key European Union law that aims to slash pollution through easy-to-achieve policy changes. But with multiple narratives and arguments swirling around, its benefits might be lost in translation. Ahead of the European Parliament decision, let us get a reality check.


The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) has the potential to achieve a high-level of protection for both human and environmental health. Instead, after mixed results from environmental decision-makers and Member States took a disappointing position, we are at a crossroads for taking action. It is time for a reality check to understand what is best for people and the environment. 



What comes to mind when you think of a family farm? Maybe a mix of happy animals depicted in children’s books and summers spent in the countryside surrounded by cows, chickens and pigs. This might also come to mind when we discuss rules for farms in the IED. But are these the farms the Directive wants to address?  

In reality, most animals in the EU live on industrial-scale farms. They often house thousands of animals in cramped conditions whilst generating dangerous levels of emissions. Such farms may be “family” businesses, but it does not mean that they are not huge, polluting industrial complexes. These industrial farms represent only 13% of all farms in the EU, but account for a staggering 60% of ammonia and 43% of methane emissions.  

Industrial pig and poultry farms must already meet basic requirements. They have been under the policy framework for more than 20 years, but it is vital to ensure these rules are not weakened. However, cattle rearing is currently exempt. This creates inequality between animal farms, especially when considering that only large farms would have to adapt. We need to ensure that everyone does their part in preventing pollution, so cattle must be part of the IED. 

Considering the low number of industrial farms included, possible exemptions based on density and operating rules being defined over years in tandem with industry, industry will not have to make a huge effort and Europe stands to benefit greatly. In fact, we can expect €5.5 billion of environmental and health benefits for the EU every year – and a more level playing field for farmers and industry. 


What happens when rules exist but are not respected? Every industrial site should have a specific pollution limit. National governments set this limit, and it provides an emissions threshold. However, industry does not always respect this rule and sometimes emits beyond the legal level of pollution.  

People often pay the price for this illegal pollution through their health and public money. Cancer, heart disease, and even premature deaths are just some of the consequences of excessive pollution. In that case, it is up to national governments to set penalties for those who break the rules.   

Penalties have never been set at the EU level, but it is under discussion in the IED. The Commission proposes 8% of annual turnover for penalising EU’s largest polluters, and the European Parliament is talking of cutting it in half. When competition law is at stake, it is normal to apply fines that are around 10% of annual turnover – are competition rules more important than human health? 

People should also have the right to request compensation due to health damage caused by pollution. Under current rules this possibility is extremely limited. Even when it’s possible, it can be an uphill battle due to the difficulty of establishing a causal link. A new EU-wide compensation right in the IED can be a key opportunity to protect fundamental rights by providing stronger protection for people harmed by pollution.  



European Union laws have great potential to tackle the climate crisis if they complement each other and aim for the same objective. Just because one climate law exists, does not mean that other tools should be dismissed.  

The IED aims to prevent pollution from all sorts of pollutants, yet public authorities cannot set binding greenhouse gas emission limits for industrial installations covered by the Emission Trading System (ETS). The ETS is used as an argument for the exclusion of climate concerns, saying it would be unnecessary to double regulation or that the carbon market system is more cost effective and flexible.  

In fact, a combined approach is the more effective option. Meaningful climate action is only possible through a complementary approach between the market mechanisms and standards set by legal rules. Through the simple step of allowing the IED to set limits on these emissions, the EU can fix this limitation and combine the action of the two laws to achieve higher and faster rates of decarbonisation.  

The IED is an opportunity to help the EU deliver on its climate goals and reinforce a strong set of climate laws. An easy win all around.   


By betting on industry transformation, the EU can be a global front runner in protecting the health of people and environment while enhancing the resource resilience of the EU manufacturing base and securing quality jobs. It’s time for decision-makers to get real and vote for an ambitious IED to bring Europe towards circular, decarbonised and zero-pollution industry.