“Every year, more than 400 000 people in the EU die prematurely due to the consequences of air pollution: this is more than 10 times the toll of road traffic accidents. Another 6.5 million people fall sick as air pollution causes diseases such as strokes, asthma and bronchitis. Air pollution also harms our natural environment, impacting both vegetation and wildlife: almost two-thirds of Europe’s ecosystems are threatened by the effects of air pollution”.

With this forceful paragraph begins the warning of the European Commission about the need to transform our economic and social model as soon as possible. Although it is hard to imagine, the future of capitalism consists of less capitalism or, if you prefer, a more responsible form of production and consumption.

“Current EU and national anti-pollution laws and policies have done (and still do) much to reduce air pollution. Changes in our energy systems, such as the decline in the use of solid fuels like wood and coal, also help. The current trends, however, are not sufficient to safeguard human health and the environment. We have to take further action”, claim the european authorities.

The Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) programme was launched by the EC in 2001, with the goal of reviewing the EU’s air quality policies and assessing progress towards attainment of the EU’s long-term air quality objectives, as laid down in the Sixth Environment Action Programme. During 2015, the proposed new NEC directive was discussed in the European Parliament and negotiated by member states in the Council. In the first half of 2016, the Council, Parliament and Commission negotiated the contents of the NEC directive and a provisional first-reading agreement was reached on 30 June. The new NEC directive was entered into force on 31 December 2016.

Under EU law, Green Deal ambitions and in synergy with other initiatives, by 2030 the EU should reduce:

  1. by more than 55% the health impacts (premature deaths) of air pollution.
  2. by 30% the share of people chronically disturbed by transport noise.
  3. by 25% the EU ecosystems where air pollution threatens biodiversity.
  4. by 50% nutrient losses, the use and risk of chemical pesticides, the use of the more hazardous ones, and the sale of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture.
  5. by 50% plastic litter at sea and by 30% microplastics released into the environment.
  6. significantly total waste generation and by 50% residual municipal waste.

Among the priority actions of the EU are, broadly speaking, the following:

  • Reducing health inequalities through zero pollution.
  • Supporting urban zero pollution action.
  • Promoting zero pollution across regions.
  • Facilitating zero pollution choices.
  • Enforcing zero pollution together.
  • Showcasing zero pollution solutions for buildings.
  • Living Labs for green digital solutions and smart zero pollution.
  • Minimising the EU’s external pollution footprint.
  • Consolidating the EU’s Knowledge Centres for Zero Pollution.

In conclusion, these measures and plans comes at a time when the EU has set itself the target of achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and has embraced with renewed determination the need to move towards a clean and circular economic model based on restored and healthy natural ecosystems, a halt to any further biodiversity loss and a healthy, toxic-free environment for all its citizens. It sets out the vision of a pollution-free world and combines all the ongoing and planned efforts in an integrated strategy that puts pollution prevention first. As many work strands are ongoing or only starting to deliver results, by 2025 the Commission will take stock of the degree of implementation of this action plan, building on the second Zero Pollution Monitoring and Outlook Report. It will identify whether further action is needed to address emerging concerns and review the targets, flagships and actions identified so far, so that this decade sets the EU on the pathway to zero pollution as a key component of the European Green Deal goals”.

Image: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/cleaner_air/