Air pollution has been one of European Union's main environmental policy concerns since the late 1970s.
Sustained efforts to reduce emissions of air pollutants in the EU enabled broad compliance with several of the commonly agreed EU air quality standards, for example for carbon monoxide, sulphur oxides, lead, and several other pollutants that are harmful for human health. Steep reductions in sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions helped ensuring that the most serious urban smog and acid rain episodes no longer occur at the rate and intensities we have seen in the past.
Despite these successes, air pollution remains the number one environmental cause of death in the EU, still leading to about 400.000 premature deaths each year in the EU due to elevated levels of fine particles and ozone. Air pollution also continues to harm our ecosystems as more than halve of the EU territory is exposed to excess nitrogen deposition (eutrophication) and ozone concentrations. This causes reduced biodiversity, crop yields and other material damage.
EU environmental policy focusses on developing and implementing a clean air policy framework that reinforces national policies for those aspects of the air quality problem that Member States cannot handle effectively or efficiently alone. Our policies also aim at implementing the Union's international obligations in the field of air pollution, and on integrating environmental protection requirements into, for example, the industry, energy, transport and agriculture sectors.
To underpin this, the European Commission carried out a comprehensive review of the EU air quality policy framework between 2011 and 2013. This review also considered strategic options for addressing the main outstanding problems. The associated impact assessment confirmed that the benefits of clean air policies continue to significantly exceed the cost of action. Public consultations furthermore confirmed that clean air policies are broadly supported by the EU citizens as well as many industrial stakeholders.
As a result, the Commission put forward an Air Quality Policy Package in 2013, including legislative proposals that are presently being considered by the European Parliament and Council. The main elements of this air quality policy package, i.e. the air pollutants it focusses on, their respective sources and origins, the scope for taking action and the benefits this would render for health, economy and environment are summarised in the a Cleaner air for all infographic.