Written By: Natalie Baer
The European Commission has unveiled plans for new air quality laws that would prevent 58,000 premature deaths and save 40 billion euros a year.
The new proposals, which aim to reduce the level of pollutants by about 20% from current levels by 2030, will address pollutants associated with asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer. These pollutants include particulate matter, ground level ozone, sulphur dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and ammonia.
This 20% reduction has been estimated to help Europe prevent 58,000 premature deaths a year, and save EU members 40 billion euros a year. Limits on emissions from medium-sized combustion installations (such as power plants) and revised legal limits on how much of each major pollutant the member states can emit are examples of actions under the new proposals.
According to the European Commission, air pollution levels resulted in more than 400,000 premature deaths in 2012 and caused over 100 million workdays to be lost to emission-linked illnesses such as asthma. Furthermore, on average, air pollution costs the European economy approximately 23 billion euros (US$31.6 billion) a year from other sources, including damage caused to crops and buildings.
The EU commission says that, besides reducing the death toll caused by pollution-related diseases by 2020, its new rules would also boost clean energy technologies and protect fragile ecosystems from collapsing.
“Air pollution is still an ‘invisible killer’ and it prevents many people from living a full active life”, says EU environment commissioner, Janez Potocnik. “The actions we are proposing will halve the number of premature deaths from air pollution. It’s also good news for nature and fragile ecosystems.”
Although environmental groups and critics may welcome the new plans, both are concerned about the pace of the change, as the law would likely not come into effect until 2030.
“There is a real danger that if you only have a binding target by 2030, member states will leave things to last minute and then say it can’t be done”, says Alan Andrews, a lawyer with campaigners Client Earth.
In a further effort to reduce greenhouse gases, the European Union has also released plans to limit the use of fluorinated gases (HFCs) in refrigerators and air conditioners. These “super greenhouse gases” contain a global-warming potential 23,000 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.