The Environment Committee (ENVI) of the European Parliament tightened up a European Commission proposal and called for more ambitious national caps on emissions of six main pollutants in order to cut emissions by 70% across the EU and save €40 billion (US$44 billion) in air pollution costs by 2030. MEPs also want to include emissions reduction ceilings on mercury, and a midpoint target for most caps of 2025.
The report by rapporteur Julie Girling (European Conservatives and Reformists, ECR, UK) on the National Emissions Ceiling directive (NEC) was adopted by 38 votes to 28, with 2 abstentions. The report will be put to a plenary vote in Strasbourg in October.
After the vote, Girling charged that a coalition of socialist, liberal and green MEPs voted for targets that haven’t been robustly impact assessed, a move that could seriously undermine efforts to reach agreement with national governments.
This legislative process has been overshadowed throughout by the Commission’s threat to withdraw their proposal and their stated intention to hold a review after the European Parliament adopts its initial position. It is estimated that around 400,000 people a year die prematurely across the EU from air pollution. This is not acceptable, we are all directly impacted by this crucial health issue.
I believe my original proposal presented the right balance between ambitious targets and realistic goals. Unfortunately a coalition of socialists, liberals and greens have focused on increasing the already ambitious targets set by the Commission. Therefore I fear that we are now embarking on a long and protracted negotiation, rather than taking the quicker route of improved health for EU citizens.—Julie Girling
The Environment committee wants the future NEC directive to include caps on mercury (Hg) from 2020, as well as binding, rather than indicative, new caps in all member states on emissions of the air pollutants sulfur dioxide (SO2); nitrogen oxides (NOx); non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC); methane (CH4); ammonia (NH3); and particulate matter (PM2.5) to be achieved by 2020 and 2030, that are proposed by the Commission. The committee stressed that more ambitious targets should be set in order to reach 2030 goals.
Midpoint targets for 2025. In order to ensure progress towards the goals set for 2030, the environment committee suggests that midpoint emissions targets for 2025 be added to the legislation. The midpoint targets would be fully binding for all pollutants, with the exception of methane.
No offsets for international shipping. The committee also voted to remove the Commission proposal for flexibility allowing members states to offset reductions in emissions from nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and particulate matter from international shipping. Offering maritime offsets would be extremely difficult to apply, and would essentially exclude landlocked countries, the committee believes.
Background. According to the European Commission, air pollution causes substantial environment and health impacts; in 2010 annual premature mortalities amounted to more than 400,000 and 62% of the EU area was exposed to eutrophication. Total health-related external costs are in the range of € 330-940 billion per year, including direct economic damages of €15 billion from lost workdays, €4 billion in healthcare costs, €3 billion in crop yield loss and €1 billion damage to buildings.
The number of Euro zones not in compliance with PM10 and NO2 standards currently amount to 32% and 24%; 40 million citizens are still exposed to PM10 levels above the EU limit values.
On 18 December 2013, the European Commission adopted a package of proposals to improve air quality in Europe. The central piece of the package was a proposal to revise the NEC directive. That proposal sets national ERCs for the six air pollutants.
The EC proposal to revise the NEC was criticized by a group of European NGOs as welcome, but not matching the scale of Europe’s air quality problem and the benefits at stake. In particular, the organizations said:
The 2020 targets, known as “Emission Reduction Commitments” (ERCs) were carried over from the 2012 revised Gothenburg Protocol without consideration of possible additional health and environmental benefits for Europeans. The proposed ERCs are expected to be achieved by Member States, in many cases by a wide margin, just by implementing existing legislation. In some cases, the proposed ERCs would allow higher emissions in 2020 than is allowed under the old NEC Directive as from 2010.
The Commission’s proposal does not require any legally-biding reductions for 2025 and delays action until 2030.
The proposed ERCs for 2030 which are estimated to reduce health impacts by 52% would still leave us far from achieving the World Health Organisation’s recommended levels of air quality. Some 260,000 premature deaths would still occur in 2030, i.e. more than half of today’s death toll. Large areas of sensitive ecosystems would still be exposed to excessive acidification and eutrophication.
While Girling’s report proposed binding rather than indicative NRCs, the NGOS charged, Girling missed the opportunity to improve the proposal’s ambition level for 2020, 2025 and 2030.