Clean air will be the focus of EU environmental policy discussions throughout 2013, the Year of Air. The European Environment Agency (EEA) provides a wealth of information underpinning the review of air pollutant legislation.
Air pollution remains a concern for public health and the environment, according to the most recent analyses published by the EEA. To improve the situation, the European Commission is reviewing the EU Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution and related policies in 2013. A related consultation on options for the revision started already in 2012 and will be concluded by early March.
Speaking at an event in the beginning of the Year of Air in Brussels, EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said: “As the Eurobarometer survey released today shows, the impact of air pollution is something that European citizens feel strongly about. The decision to designate 2013 as the Year of Air reflects both the economic seriousness of the problem, but also the impacts on humans. Lives are being cut short by air pollution and chronic respiratory disease makes life miserable for many across the continent.”
The air quality problem in Europe
Europe has made progress in tackling emissions of some air pollutants. For example, sulphur dioxide emissions have been reduced significantly in recent years thanks to EU legislation requiring the use of emissions scrubbing technology and lower sulphur content in fuels.
However, a large proportion of the population is still exposed to excessive concentrations of certain air pollutants, leading to health risks and premature death in some areas. The most problematic pollutant for health is particulate matter, which has only decreased slightly over the last decade.
The latest science also shows that some environmental impacts of air pollution, such as acidification and eutrophication, are more serious than anticipated. Among others, this is because newer scientific methods are showing that ecosystems are more sensitive than previously judged. While legislation has led to improvements in many cases, real world emissions of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles can still substantially exceed emission limits.
Competition winners receive award
In 2012, the EEA organised a photo story competition ‘ImaginAir’, inviting Europeans to tell their story of air in Europe in four thematic categories: air and health, air and nature, air and cities, air and technology. In addition to these four categories, the competition awarded special prizes for youth and the public’s choice. The winners were presented with their prizes today, showing inspirational approaches to picturing the air where they live, an admittedly challenging endeavour.