European Environment Agency (EEA)

Air Implementation Pilot - Lessons learnt from the implementation of air quality legislation at urban level


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Why have a pilot project for air policy implementation?
Almost three quarters of Europeans live in cities. The air quality in our cities is therefore of significant importance to the health of Europeans. Considerable progress has been made in the past twenty years in improving urban air quality, but issues remain. A number of different air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and ozone remain above regulated levels, posing a threat to human health. This report describes a European pilot project to help identify and address the reasons underlying this 'gap' in implementation of air quality policy in 12 European cities, and thereby draw lessons of wider relevance.

The pilot took place within a broader policy context, three aspects of which are particularly important. The first is the European Commission's 2012 communication on implementation issues (1), which stressed the need to find effective ways of dealing with 'problems on the ground' that prevent implementation of environmental policy, and called for more effective implementation systems.

The second is the ongoing review of air policy culminating in 2013, Europe's year of air. Later this year, the Commission will present the results of the review, which is expected to contain concrete legislative and policy proposals to revise and update Europe's air policy. The third is the continued focus on implementation proposed by the Commission in the context of the 7th Environment Action Programme (2).

The Air Implementation Pilot is a timely response to all three policy initiatives. Its aim is to show how a better understanding of policy implementation is needed to underpin both the current and any revised air policy. The pilot looked at implementation in two ways: firstly, by identifying the implementation challenge; and secondly, by improving knowledge on the policy tools that can address that challenge.

Implementation of EU policy is sometimes addressed primarily in terms of compliance: ensuring that countries adhere to EU law, and bringing legal challenges against them if they do not. While compliance is of course essential, this pilot focused on another important aspect: the collaborative work needed to build capacity and knowledge in order to deliver policy more effectively in pursuit of agreed objectives.

How the Air Implementation Pilot was organised
The Air Implementation Pilot brought together 12 cities across the European Union and was jointly run by the cities themselves, the European Commission, and the European Environment Agency (EEA). It aimed to better understand the challenges cities faced in implementing air quality policy, and also encouraged the cities to share their experiences, so they could learn from each other and see what has worked and what has not worked in other cities. The pilot also aimed to develop common proposals to help improve implementation of air policy.

The pilot lasted for 15 months, starting in March 2012. It consisted of several workshops held with representatives of the European Commission's Directorate General of Environment; the EEA; the EEA's Topic Centre on Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation; and representatives of the cities participating in the pilot. The EEA prepared the format and topics to be discussed at these meetings, sending out questionnaires and preparatory materials before each meeting in order to assist the discussions.

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