Air pollution: MEPs want stricter limits to achieve zero pollution by 2050

European Parliament
14.09.2023 / 08:57

Stricter 2035 limits for several pollutants

Air quality indices across Europe to be harmonised

EU countries must prepare air quality roadmaps on how to comply


Parliament today adopted its position on a revised law to improve air quality in the EU in order to achieve a clean and healthy environment for European citizens.


363 MEPs voted in favour, 226 against and 46 abstained on the vote which sets a stricter 2035 limit and target values for several pollutants including particulate matter (PM2.5, PM10), NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), SO2 (sulphur dioxide) and O3 (ozone). The new rules would ensure air quality in the EU is not harmful to human health, natural ecosystems and biodiversity and would align EU rules with the most recent World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines. MEPs also stress that the air quality standards proposed by the Commission should be an intermediate objective to be reached as soon as possible, and by 2030 at the latest.


More air-quality sampling points


The text underlines the need to increase the number of air quality sampling points. In urban areas, there should be at least one monitoring supersite per two million inhabitants that represents the exposure of the general urban population (the Commission proposed one per 10 million). In locations where high ultrafine particles (UFP), black carbon, mercury and ammonia (NH3) concentrations are likely to occur, there should be one sampling point per one million inhabitants, higher than the Commission’s originally proposed one per five million and then only for UFP.


Better protection of citizens


MEPs want to harmonise currently-fragmented and unintuitive air quality indices across the EU. Indices must be comparable, clear and publically available, with hourly updates so citizens can protect themselves during high levels of air pollution (and before obligatory alert thresholds are reached). They shall be accompanied by information about symptoms associated with air pollution peaks and the associated health risks for each pollutant, including information tailored to vulnerable groups.


Parliament also wants citizens whose health is damaged to have a stronger right to compensation when the new rules are infringed.


Air quality plans and roadmaps


MEPs propose that in addition to air quality plans, which are required when EU countries exceed limits, all member states would also have to create air quality roadmaps that set out short- and long-term measures in order to comply with the new limit values.




After the vote, rapporteur Javi López (S&D, ES) said: “Addressing air pollution in Europe demands immediate action. This slow-motion pandemic is taking a devastating toll on our society, leading to premature deaths and a multitude of cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. We must follow the science, align our air quality standards with WHO guidelines and boost some of the provisions in this directive. We need to be ambitious to safeguard the well-being of our citizens and create a cleaner and healthier environment.”


Next steps


Parliament is now ready to start negotiations with Council on the final shape of the law.




Air pollution continues to be the number one environmental cause of early death in the EU with around 300 000 premature deaths per year (check here to see how clean the air is in European cities), with the most harmful being PM2.5, PM10, NO2, SO2 and O3, according to the EEA. In October 2022, the Commission proposed a revision of the EU air quality rules with more ambitious targets for 2030 to achieve the zero pollution objective by 2050 in line with the Zero Pollution Action Plan.


This legislation is responding to citizens' expectations concerning pollution and “greener” cities with lower emissions as well as raising awareness by providing regularly updated pollution information, as expressed in proposals 2(2), 4(6) and 6(1) of the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe.


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