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LIFEnews features 2014

LIFE vital for EC's new Clean Air Package

The European Commission (EC) recently adopted a new Clean Air Policy Package. The LIFE programme will be a key tool to help European Union (EU) Member States achieve the goals of this legislation, explains Scott Brockett of the EC's Directorate-General for the Environment (DG ENV).

Photo:LIFE04 ENV/A/000006Photo: LIFE04 ENV/A/000006

EU air policy has brought some major achievements in recent decades, in particular a dramatic reduction in sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions, which have been cut by 80%. Emissions reductions have also been seen for other pollutants, albeit by less significant amounts as these were regulated later than SO2. In addition, emissions and GDP growth have decoupled.

However, concentrations of some pollutants remain above the levels set in EU legislation on ambient air quality (Directive 2008/50/EC). Whilst emissions are falling, they are not doing so quickly enough to ensure compliance with the two major objectives of this directive, says Mr Brockett, the Team Leader for Air Quality in DG ENV’s Air & Industrial Emissions Unit. The main problem areas are particulate matter PM10 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The compliance deadline for reducing PM10 emissions was originally 2005, which was extended to 2010 for some Member States. Despite this, there was substantial non-compliance across Europe and court cases are under way against 17 Member States. The original compliance deadline for NO2 was 2010, with the possibility of extension to 2015 in certain circumstances. Only around half of the requests for extensions have been approved, so there is substantial non-compliance in this area too, with infringement proceedings expected to be launched this year against a similar number of Member States.

Within specific sectors, the picture is mixed. Mr Brockett says that the potential for reductions in industry is likely to shrink in the foreseeable future as it was regulated more thoroughly than other areas. He adds that there is very little regulation of agriculture, apart from the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) and part of the sector coming under the Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU). “A huge proportion of agriculture emissions are not regulated at European level and they have not come down much over the last couple of decades. They are not projected to decrease in future if no action is taken,” the Team Leader explains.

On the domestic heating front, there is also not much regulation at European level; this is mainly dealt with by Member States. As for transport, Mr Brockett notes that European legislation has worked well in reducing emissions from gasoline-fuelled vehicles. However, emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) from diesel vehicles have not fallen at all. “This is a key driver for non-compliance of the NO2 limit value under the Ambient Air Quality Directive,” he says, although some Member States’ national tax policies favouring diesel have also contributed somewhat to the problem. “Controlling NOx from diesel was the key thing to fix to promote compliance in Europe,” according to Mr Brockett.

New package to tackle emissions

To that end, the Commission adopted a new Clean Air Policy Package in December. This is aimed at ensuring compliance with existing legislation on air quality by 2020. Following that, further significant reductions are targeted by 2030. These will come from a revised National Emissions Ceiling (NEC) Directive (2001/81/EC), with stricter targets for six main pollutants (SO2, NOx, non-methane volatile organic compounds, ammonia, PM2.5 and methane), and from a new proposed directive to cut pollution from medium-sized combustion plants (between 1 and 50 MW), which are not covered by existing legislation.

Photo: LIFE07 ENV/IT/000434Photo: LIFE07 ENV/IT/000434

“If all existing EU source legislation is implemented, that will solve a lot of the compliance problems,” says Mr Brockett. But he adds that a major element of addressing non-compliance will be capacity-building. This could be achieved using both the revised NEC directive national programmes and the various funding instruments at European level, in particular the LIFE programme. There will still be hotspot areas with particular air quality concerns, but these will be best addressed at local and national level, according to the Team Leader, and it is important to encourage Member States to make the best use of available European funds for these issues.

Looking at individual sectors, Mr Brockett says the main challenge for agriculture will be to cut ammonia emissions by almost 30% by 2030, relative to 2005. “Some Member States are already very advanced in this area, such as Denmark and the Netherlands. We will try to ensure that other countries apply their techniques, which are well known and very effective.” For industry, various emissions reductions will be required, plus there is the proposed new directive on medium-sized combustion plants.

Fixing the diesel NOx issue under the existing European framework for regulating transport emissions is very important. “But further pan-European controls on transport emissions did not come out as cost-effective to achieve the standards set for 2030,” Mr Brockett says. However, some urban areas will still have air quality problems due to the concentration of vehicles, even if these vehicles are much cleaner than today. In such instances, a mobility strategy is required. He believes a voluntary standard beyond Euro 6 (legislation covering emission limits for cars and light commercial vehicles) might be useful for certain areas with air quality problems, so that local or national authorities can promote cleaner vehicles with financial incentives, for example.

Boost for green growth

Photo: LIFE09 ENV/ES/000507Photo: LIFE09 ENV/ES/000507

The new Clean Air Policy Package will also be good for growth and employment. The implications for overall GDP growth are slightly positive, according to Mr Brockett, and the €3.3 billion in capital expenditure that the policy entails would all effectively go to the green economy (for example, to manufacturers of catalytic converters, abatement equipment or for retrofitting). "So this is a big stimulus package for the green economy," he says. It is also expected to add the equivalent of 100 000 full-time jobs due to increased productivity and competitiveness. Mr Brockett points out that major international competitors are ahead of Europe in terms of air pollution controls. He gives the example of PM2.5, where the EU limit is 25 μg/m3, compared to Japan at 15 μg/m3, the USA at 12 μg/m3and WHO guidelines of 10 μg/m3. He adds that emerging economies are also taking air pollution much more seriously. "For instance, China has said it will invest 0.4% of GDP over the next five years in air pollution in Beijing alone. That's 10 times higher as a proportion of GDP than our entire package for the whole of Europe." Mr Brockett says this scale of investment coming in the emerging world means there will be a market for clean technology in the next decade or so which European industry is in a very good position to exploit, providing further opportunities for green growth.

The importance of LIFE

The LIFE programme will be a key tool in helping Member States achieve the targets contained within the Clean Air Policy Package, including both traditional projects and Integrated Projects (IPs) launched as part of the new programme for the 2014-2020 period. As Mr Brockett notes, “Capacity-building and implementation of air quality measures are very important for us. IPs should be a major help in tackling the outstanding issues, since they will focus on implementation of measures and leverage funding from other sources.”

On the capacity-building side, he believes traditional LIFE projects can also leverage a great deal of financing for air quality assessment and management, such as for developing inventories, monitoring technologies, air quality modelling, new management practices and better communication to the public: “All of these really need to be reinforced for legislation to be implemented effectively. LIFE is our major tool to accomplish this.” Mr Brockett concludes, “Our main priority for the 2020 time horizon under the Clean Air Policy Package is to use LIFE as efficiently as we can to get Member States to the point where everyone is compliant.”

 

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