MEPs on the European Parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee have today [Tuesday, 27 Novemeber] voted in favour of an ambitious 'Clean air for all' resolution on air pollution.
The resolution, drafted by British MEPs including Keith Taylor (Green), Seb Dance (Labour), Catherine Bearder (Lib Dems) and Julie Girling (Independent, former Conservative), has been welcomed by clean air campaigners.
The resolution, as adopted:
- Recognises more than 400 000 premature deaths per year in the EU are attributable to air pollution, and that 98% of the EU's urban population is exposed to levels exceeding WHO guidelines
- Supports the continuation of the so-called "Clean Air Dialogues" between the EU and national governments to address the implementation gaps in EU air quality standards
- Urges national governments to prioritise the implementation of coordinated actions and policies at all levels and in all sectors for improving air quality in cities and urban areas
- Calls on national governments to take a comprehensive and all-inclusive approach to air pollution including indoor air pollution, taking into account the various areas involved, such as farming and food production systems, nature conservation, climate change, energy efficiency, mobility and urban planning, and to prioritise pollution mitigation approaches that have additional benefits across other sectors
- Calls on the European Commission to carry out an ambitious update of the Ambient Air Quality Directive to match the latest WHO limit and target values (for PM, SO2 and O3) and to set limits for PM2.5
- Encourages national governments to draw up Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) which give priority to zero- and low-emissions transport modes, reduce access of personal cars to urban centres and facilitate access for other forms of transportation such as bicycles
- Urges the European Commission to also address the issue of indoor air pollution by defining harmonised testing standards to measure indoor air pollution
- Calls on the EU and national governments to use the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy as an opportunity to fight air pollution from the agricultural sector (agriculture being the third most significant source of PM10 emissions in the EU and ammonia emissions contributing to about 50% of the health impacts of air pollution)
Following the vote, Green MEP and long-time air quality campaigner, Keith Taylor said:
"That the deaths of almost half a million EU citizens' are linked with air pollution every year demonstrates how urgently we must act on this public health crisis. This resolution is a vital step in the right direction."
"It's essential we take a holistic approach to tackling the toxic air crisis; that means alongside combatting transport emissions we must reform agriculture, address indoor air pollution and urgently update the EU air quality directives to align with the latest science-based WHO limits. That is what we have voted for today."
The senior Green Party politician added that he believed the fact the resolution drew cross-party support from British MEPs was a reflection of the UK government's domestic air pollution failures. He said:
"The British MEP push for ambitious clean air measures at an EU level is recognition that, domestically, the UK government continues to be apathetic - even in the face of sustained legal action. Ministers continually refuse to take the action necessary to face up to the public health crisis linked with the premature deaths of 40,000 British citizens every year. EU action has only become more vital."
Mr Taylor also highlighted the impacts the current political chaos surrounding Brexit may have on EU air quality laws and their implementation in the UK. He concluded:
"First and foremost; Brexit is in chaos. That is all that is certain at the moment."
"If by magic, Theresa May conjures a Parliamentary majority for her Withdrawal Agreement, the transition period it provides would at best ensure Britain remains bound by current and future EU air quality laws until 2022 - without having any say in making them. After that, the UK government's plans for a post-Brexit environmental watchdog without the legal teeth necessary to enforce air quality laws is hugely concerning. Apathetic Ministers—who have been more concerned with fighting in the courts against taking action on air pollution—will be free of the scrutiny that currently stops them taking leaps backwards on air quality progress."
"If the 'deal' falls, at best, pro-EU MEPs have a chance of supporting a winning People's Vote campaign that sees the British people decide that after re-assessing the reality of Brexit they wish to remain in the EU. In that scenario, we maintain vital EU laws and our say in making them. At worst, the Brexit chaos leads the country off a terrifying 'no deal' cliff edge that causes legislative paralysis and put at risk the maintenance, implementation and enforcement of all EU clean air rules."