Mayor Hidalgo, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

it is a great pleasure to welcome you to the first European Clean Air Forum. Thank you for coming in such large numbers. Your presence is a powerful illustration of the growing interest in clean air, and an equally powerful reminder of the urgent need to act.

A reminder that citizens are suffering. A reminder that Europe needs to act.

For the next two days, we'll be hearing about both those things. Not just the scale of the dangers we face, but also the impressive efforts that are being made to rise to the challenge.

Mayor Hidalgo, let me start by thanking you for hosting us in this impressive setting.

Paris is a great place to hold the forum. Under your leadership, the city has been at the forefront of this battle, defending citizens' right to clean air.

Paris concentrates the challenges. It shows how hard it is to deliver clean air, while meeting legitimate needs for heating and transport, when a significant proportion of the pollution originates elsewhere.

But that challenge must be met. As we will hear in a moment from Maria Neira and Hans Bruyninckx, as well as Richard Fuller tomorrow, , the science is crystal clear. The World Health Organisation has confirmed that more than 400 000 premature deaths can be attributed to air pollution, every year, here in the European Union.

And it is not just human health that suffers. Our economies suffer as well.

There is some good news. The air we breathe is cleaner than it has been for decades. Air pollution is coming down, and on many days the sky looks clear.

But appearances can be deceptive. Many of the dangers are invisible. In Europe, premature deaths from air pollution are about 15 times higher than fatalities from road traffic accidents. You can keep off the roads. But you can't stop breathing air.

Let's not be too gloomy, because we are making progress. In the first 15 years of this Century we saw the combined GDP of the European Union grow by 32 percent, whilst emissions of the main air pollutants actually decreased, for example by 10 percent for Ammonia and by 70 percent for Sulphur Dioxide (S02).

But we cannot ignore the persistent and avoidable health costs from pollutants.

Last year Europe's leaders signed new pollution limits into law. These new standards, in the National Emissions Ceiling Directive, will halve the negative health impacts of air pollution by 2030.

Europe is laying down the law. I have been very clear with EU Member States that they have to "up their game". Failing to meet air quality standards that have been in place for decades is not an option. That's why we are taking legal action to push Member States into complying with these obligations.

I know it isn't easy, that's why we want to tackle this problem together. I've launched "Clean Air Dialogues" with three Member States so far, and several more are on the way.

And we have a new tool for finding solutions, the Environmental Implementation Review. It's not just for Member States – it's also for regions and cities. It's there to help identify the places where implementation isn't working, and to fill those gaps with solutions we can find together.

We have to tackle the source of these problems, and the Commission is doing that in key sectors, like energy, agriculture and transport.

Transport is a good example. Last week the European Commission adopted a second phase of measures to deliver Low Emission Mobility.

The new, lower targets for CO2 vehicle emissions, and the incentives for zero and low emission vehicles will drive the market towards cleaner options. Zero and low emissions cars mean less CO2, but also less air pollution. And our proposals cover not only cars, but also from the smaller vans that are so present in our cities. I believe that they will have a major impact on reducing urban air pollution.

It is this part of the mobility package that was in the headlines, and I know that some of you would have liked to see this go further.

But the manufacturers are telling us that reaching the CO2 targets will be challenging, when you consider that the starting point will already be the 2020 emissions target of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer and we call for a further 15% cut by 2025.

And they are telling us that reaching thresholds to get credits will also be challenging when you consider that only 1% of the cars put on the European market today are electric, and we call on them to put at least 15% zero and low emission vehicles on the market by 2025.

Now it will be for the Member States in Council and the European Parliament to pick up the Commission’s proposal, and I call on them to defend the levels of ambition we have proposed.

Although it is this CO2 proposal that has been in the headlines, please don’t forget that it is not standing alone. It is part of a package that takes a comprehensive approach to low emission mobility. In this second phase that we adopted last week we also included:

  • proposals to encourage the use of public transport by improving connections and hubs;

  • proposals to drive up demand for zero and low emission vehicles by promoting their purchase and leasing of by public authorities;

  • and proposals for boosting investment in alternative fuels infrastructure, such as charging points.

And there will be another - third - wave of the mobility package in spring.

The mobility package also comes on the back of our strong response to the diesel emissions scandal. We’ve strengthened the regulatory framework for measuring emissions in real driving conditions, and we’ve revamped the rules for market surveillance. I hope that Europe’s ministers will make a final decision soon on these stronger measures.

So the European Commission is doing its bit. We are making sure that going for low emission vehicles is not only good for our planet, but also good for your pocket. But we cannot - and should not - act alone. We count on the automotive industry and its suppliers, municipalities and regions, and Member States to take the right steps in this direction too. Paris is a great partner in this respect, and has shown that cities are an essential part of the solution.

But mobility is only one part of the clean air story.

I trust that those who are calling today for more ambition on CO2 from cars and vans, will tomorrow also call for other polluters to take their share of the responsibility. We need to create the right incentives in our agricultural policies, in our buildings and urban planning policies, and in many other policy areas at many levels.

This clean air forum will be looking – over the next two days - at the whole spectrum of emissions, at the cocktail of pollutants that we breathe, and at the solutions across the board.

We will launch our discussions today by reflecting, together with Marina Neira, Director at the World Health Organisation and François Bourdillon, the Director of Santé Publique France, on the health aspects of clean air, and the severe consequences of any failure to take action. We will return to that theme tomorrow, when Richard Fuller, the Co-Chair of the Lancet Commission, will present their latest report.

Today's first panel discussion will look at where we need to act on this silent killer. We will be touching on the need for concerted action across society, involving all stakeholders and many economic sectors.

My good friend Hans Bruyninckx, the Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, will guide us through the air quality situation in the EU, showing us a new way for citizens to get up-to-date information on air quality in their region. I'm sure many of us will be using it in the future.

Air pollution, and fine dust in particular, can travel long distances. As well as strengthening the case for action at the European level, this also underlines the need for a concerted approach.

In cities, where most Europeans live, most of the local air pollution comes from transport and residential heating. In today’s second panel, panellists will discuss the urban mobility challenge, and solutions that are feasible and affordable.

As Paris knows all too well, many cities also suffer from pollution that originates elsewhere. This strengthens the case for regional partnerships, and action at national levels.

One good example of cooperation is the Partnership on Air Quality under the umbrella of the Urban Agenda for the EU, which is promoting cooperation between Member States, cities, the European Commission and other stakeholders.

When it comes to tackling air pollution, we need an integrated approach. One of the main sources of particulate matter, for example, is agriculture. Once ammonia gets into the air, it combines with other chemicals to form secondary particulate matter. It's an enormous problem all across the continent.

So the forum will be looking in detail at what we can do. What can farmers do to address the problem, and how can we, as citizens and policymakers, reduce the pressures that they face. Farmers suffer too, as ozone pollution is a major factor in reducing crop yields. So we'll be hearing from the Head of Cabinet of my friend and colleague Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Agriculture, who will be looking at future directions for the Common Agriculture Policy.

Turning to tomorrow, we'll see a tighter focus on solutions, and the business opportunities that clean air has to offer. We'll be hearing that much of the technology we need is already here – but it needs to be put to better use. It's a great opportunity for Europe to lead from the front. I want to see us at the vanguard of the transition towards a 'clean air' economy.

We'll be hearing a lot more along those lines in the coming months. In February next year, Bulgaria will be hosting an Eco-Innovation Summit on Air Quality, and I am delighted that Neno Dimov, the Bulgarian Minister for Environment and Water, has agreed to give us a taste of what's in store.

We will also have the pleasure of welcoming Brune Poirson, State Secretary for Environment here in France, who will represent Minister Hulot and outline how France is responding to the clean air challenge.

We need to roll out those technologies, but we also need a coordinated approach. So the last panel tomorrow will take a close look at the governance structures that are already in place, and how they can be improved. The focus will be on the granularity of the approach – how we can insure that policy at EU, national, regional and local levels are mutually reinforcing, and are pulling in the same direction.

To close the Forum, Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs will demonstrate the major role that fiscal policy will play, helping Europe deliver the clean air that our citizens deserve.

Ladies and Gentlemen, before I hand over to Mayor Hidalgo, one final thought.

I'm sure you'll agree that air quality is one of the most fundamental tests of any society. If our society fails this test, then real people, people like you and me, risk paying the ultimate penalty. Just like the pollution itself, the costs are often hidden, but just like the costs, that does not make them any less real.

We need to bear that in mind for the next two days. These problems can be avoided. We do have the structures and the technologies that we need. But we have to do a better job at ensuring they get used. Failure is not an option.

Thank you.

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