Commission Communication Thematic Strategy on air pollution (link)

September 27, 2005

Brussels, 26 Sep 2005

Thematic Strategy on air pollution
{SEC(2005) 1132}
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Air pollution damages human health and the environment. The need to deliver cleaner air has been recognised for several decades with action having been taken at national and EU level and also through active participation in international conventions1. EU action has focused on establishing minimum quality standards for ambient air and tackling the problems of acid rain and ground level ozone. Polluting emissions from large combustion plant and mobile sources have been reduced; fuel quality improved and environmental protection requirements integrated into the transport and energy sectors.

Despite significant improvements, serious air pollution impacts persist. Against this backdrop, the Community's Sixth Environmental Action Programme (6th EAP) called for the development of a thematic strategy on air pollution with the objective to attain "levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on, and risks to human health and the environment"2. Following its communication on the Clean Air For Europe programme (CAFE)3, the Commission has examined whether current legislation is sufficient to achieve the 6th EAP objectives by 2020. This analysis looked at future emissions and impacts on health and the environment and has used the best available scientific and health information. It showed that significant negative impacts will persist even with effective implementation of current legislation.

Accordingly, this thematic strategy on air pollution (the Strategy) establishes interim objectives for air pollution in the EU and proposes appropriate measures for achieving them. It recommends that current legislation be modernised, be better focused on the most serious pollutants and that more is done to integrate environmental concerns into other policies and programmes.


Air pollution is both a local and a trans-boundary problem caused by the emission of certain pollutants which either alone, or through chemical reaction lead to negative environmental and health impacts.

E.g. Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP). Decision 1600/2002/EC - OJ L242, 10.9.2002, p.1. COM(2001) 245 . In relation to health, ground level ozone and particulate matter ("fine dust") are the pollutants of most concern. Exposure can lead to impacts ranging from minor effects on the respiratory system to premature mortality (see Annex 2). Ozone is not emitted directly but is formed through the reaction of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the presence of sunlight. Particulate matter can be emitted directly to the air (so called primary particles) or be formed in the atmosphere as "secondary particles" from gases such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides and ammonia (NH3).

Ecosystems are also damaged by (1) the deposition of the acidifying substances ­ nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and ammonia ­ which lead to loss of flora and fauna; (2) excess nutrient nitrogen in the form of ammonia and nitrogen oxides can disrupt plant communities, leach into freshwaters leading in each case to a loss of biodiversity (called "eutrophication"); and (3) ground level ozone that results in physical damage and reduced growth of agricultural crops, forests and plants. Air pollution also causes damage to materials leading to a deterioration of buildings and monuments.

Significant progress has already been made in reducing the main air pollutants. Figure 1 shows the reductions since 1990 in the emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and ammonia delivered by current policies.

These reductions have had positive impacts, although two thirds of the lakes and streams surveyed in Scandinavia are still at risk from acid deposition and some 55% of all EU ecosystems suffer from eutrophication. Even with the full implementation of existing laws, environment and health problems will persist in 2020 if no further action is taken. While, compared to a baseline situation of 2000, there will be a reduction of around 44% in the area of ecosystems receiving excess acid deposition the current data suggests only a 14% reduction in areas affected by eutrophication due to only modest reductions in ammonia emissions. However, the projections were not able to include potential ammonia emission reductions following the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy4 and other recent measures. The area of forest affected by excessive levels of ozone will only fall by 14%.

Concerning health impacts, currently in the EU there is a loss in statistical life expectancy of over 8 months due to PM2.5 in air, equivalent to 3.6 million life years lost annually. Figure 2 shows that even with effective implementation of current policies this will reduce only to around 5.5 months (equivalent to 2.5 million life years lost or 2,000 premature deaths). For ozone there are estimated to be around 21,000 cases of hastened mortality in 2020. This has severe consequences for quality

Brussels, 21.9.2005 COM(2005) 446 final Previous Item Back to Titles Print Item

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