Air pollution: the European Union tightens its standards, without following WHO recommendations

On the evening of Tuesday February 20, the European Union reached an agreement to strengthen its air quality standards by 2030. A new step towards the “zero pollution by 2050” objective. But these standards remain below WHO recommendations, while air pollution remains a major public health problem.

General view of the pollution fog that has fallen over the city of Milan, Italy, for several days. Here, at sunset on February 20, 2024. © DANIELE MASCOLO / Reuters

By: RFI Follow


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A new European agreement signed to strengthen air quality standards by 2030. The agreement concluded in the evening between MEPs and negotiators from Member States

provides for stricter limits than

currently for 2030, concerning

several pollutants

: certain very harmful fine particles penetrating deep into the lungs, nitrogen dioxide, or even sulfur dioxide. According to details in a press release from the European Parliament, the authorized annual limit values ​​will have to be lowered by more than half in 2030 compared to today.

States will be required to develop detailed roadmaps by 2028 to achieve this. The agreement must be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council soon. Member countries will then have two years to apply the new rules. 

However, by halving the authorized thresholds

for the main pollutants

, the objectives set by the World Health Organization have not been achieved, but Anne Lassman, air quality referent for France Nature Environnement, sees the positive. “

It is a compromise text that has been found and it is considerable for health

,” she said at the microphone of

Igor Strauss

, of RFI’s Environment department.

Same story with Social Democratic MEP Javi López, rapporteur of the text. “ 

This is a major step

to guarantee a healthier future

 ” by revising “ 

obsolete standards, some of which were 15 to 20 years old

 ,” he commented. “

The standards will be revised again by December 31, 2030, then at least every five years, and more often if new scientific findings allow, such as revised WHO guidelines

,” he said. he adds.

Air pollution costs

€1,500 per year per inhabitant in France 

Air pollution causes the deaths of 300,000 people in Europe each year. Strengthening standards should logically reduce mortality. Another advantage, economic this time: “

It is also a step forward for public finances, because air pollution costs around €1,500 per year per inhabitant in France

,” explains Anne Lassman. Or 100 billion euros per year, according to a 2021 Senate report.

📈+ 77% new cases of #cancer by 2050. Who wants it?

We call on E. Macron to support an ambitious Air Quality directive, in line with WHO recommendations, out of health and economic concerns. @ChristopheBechu @fredvalletoux

— France Nature Environnement (@FNEasso) February 19, 2024

Europe has therefore taken a step forward in achieving the “

zero pollution by 2050 


. But vigilance remains essential, for Anne Lassman. “ 

We still have risks of setback depending on the results of the European elections, in June 2024. The very significant advance of the far-right which is announced, particularly in France, is a concern, a real concern. ..

 ”, she confides. 

In their initial mandate in mid-September, MEPs called for strict and binding alignment, by 2035, with WHO guidelines. As part of the Green Deal, this legislation has however been the subject of fierce discussions, with a number of states – like the EPP (right) MEPs – pleading for less restrictive standards and broad exemptions. The far-right National Rally party has, for example, already clearly spoken out against this European Green Deal.

According to the final agreement, States may request that the 2030 deadline be postponed for up to ten years, in the event of specific conditions: for example when the necessary reductions in pollutants can only be achieved by replacing a considerable part of the systems existing domestic heating systems.

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