European Parliament passes ambitious but realistic clean air targets

MEPs have voted for an ambitious set of clean air targets today by backing proposals put forward by the Conservative MEP leading on the targets for the European Parliament, Julie Girling.

The parliament in Strasbourg was voting on a proposal for a revised National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD), which forms part of the EU Clean Air Package. It puts in place new annual caps on the emissions of air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) and ammonia (NH3) until 2020. The new directive will also set new national emission reduction commitments for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and methane (CH4).

Mrs Girling has maintained that the levels proposed by the European Commission were rightly ambitious, but could realistically be delivered by 2020, 2025 and 2030 target dates. Efforts by Labour, Socialist and green MEPs to pass unrealistic targets were defeated by MEPs who feared the unobtainable targets would prevent any targets from reaching the negotiating table with EU governments, which must jointly agree with the parliament before any targets can become law.

The adoption of these realistic targets now paves the way for Mrs Girling to negotiate with EU governments in seeking an early agreement that will bring tangible benefits of cleaner air; for example, the package put forward by Mrs Girling will deliver a 52% improvement in health outcomes.

EU governments have yet to adopt their position on the proposal, which the European Commission had even considered withdrawing entirely last year but reversed their position after intense lobbying by Mrs Girling.

Speaking after today’s vote, she said:
“Europe needs to take action to clean up its air. We need to set ambitious targets on key pollutants. But they have to be deliverable.
“Air pollution is the number one environmental cause of death in the EU. Over 400,000 of our citizens die prematurely each year and millions more suffer debilitating illness, medication and hospitalisation. This has an enormous human and economic cost, tens of billions of euros in days lost at work and even more spent on healthcare bills. Air pollution also hits the natural environment through eutrophication and acid deposition.”

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