Clearing the air: Talking air pollution in Rotterdam

On 23 and 24 November, the European Commission will host the fourth EU Clean Air Forum in Rotterdam and the EEB will be present to engage in the ongoing discussions regarding the future of Europe’s air quality laws.

The EU Clean Air Forum is organised biannually and is one of the key platforms to discuss everything related to air quality. Policymakers, scientists, representatives of NGOs and even urban planners will all descend on the SS Rotterdam – a former cruise liner from the late 1950s and the venue for this year’s edition of the forum.

The event will provide an opportunity to continue the exchange on the ongoing Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD) revision process that has just entered into the trialogue phase.

The cornerstone of European air quality laws

The Ambient Air Quality Directive is at the foundation of the European air quality legislation, setting standards for the protection of people’s health and the reduction of environmental damage caused by air pollution.

The AAQD were first adopted in 2008 and have since been revised twice, with the most recent revision taking place in 2015. The, now out-dated, directives set standards for a range of pollutants – including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and sulphur dioxide – and requires Member States to monitor air quality and take measures to improve it where necessary. 

It is now key that the current, ongoing revision is done right; with around 300,000 premature deaths annually in Europe air pollution is a silent killer, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable among us.

Obstacles to clean air remain

One significant concern is that the negotiating position recently adopted by the Council of the EU pays little attention to the harm caused by polluted air and the urgency of the problem.

Member States have proposed extensive possibilities for postponement of the deadlines for the compliance with the new air quality standards. In practice, governments would have until 2040 and beyond to ensure cleaner air in the areas with exceedances. In addition to this, the Council’s position includes several problematic provisions that would create loopholes in the legislation and put its efficient implementation at risk.

Access to justice, air quality plans and monitoring requirements are just some of the elements that have been significantly weakened in comparison to the proposals made by the Commission as well as the position of the European Parliament.

In the trialogue process, this needs to be fixed – and the Clean Air Forum will be the platform to discuss this.

It is also important to note that successfully delivering on the AAQD will depend on other legislation directly and indirectly supporting the air quality goals. One prominent example is the National Emissions reduction Commitments (NEC) Directive. The directive sets national emission reduction commitments for Member States for five main air pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

In order to reach the reduction targets, Member States are asked to prepare National Air Pollution Control Programmes outlining the measures that will lead to less emissions and cleaner air.

In 2021, only 13 Member States successfully met their national emission reduction commitments for each of the five main pollutants – these are dire results showing that there is an urgent need to step up the efforts in implementing the directive.

Participate in this year’s Clean Air Forum

The Clean Air Forum will be a great opportunity to not only discuss the aforementioned issues but also highlight them for the general public and let the policymakers know that civil society is watching with particular attention to what kind of legislation is passed.

For those wanting to register, there is still time to attend online by signing up here.