Press release

EU air quality law: lawmakers agree to protect people’s health

20 February 2024

EU lawmakers have just reached a preliminary agreement for a clean air law that sets new standards to protect people’s health.

After intense negotiations between the European Parliament, Council and European Commission, co-legislators have reached a political agreement on the revised Ambient Air Quality Directive, recognising the vital need to reduce air pollution in line with scientific recommendations.

However, the institutions have stopped short of fully aligning the law with the World Health Organization’s recommendations, and have also included a mechanism that could allow Member States to delay complying with the new standards until 2040.

ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “Today, EU lawmakers have negotiated a once-in-a-generation law to protect people’s health from dirty air. Setting stricter legal limits is paramount to protect people from dangerous levels of air pollution.

“But the progress made is bittersweet, as in many parts of the EU people may have to wait until 2040 – over a decade from now – to breathe healthier air. To avoid this, we need to see  concrete action being taken by public authorities in the meantime to protect the EU’s most vulnerable inhabitants.”

Decision-makers have also agreed to empower people to go to court when authorities fail to protect their health from dirty air. New, explicit, access to justice rules will finally give people the tools to hold their governments to account if they breach the law. Meanwhile, a new compensation right will mean people made ill by illegal levels of air pollution stand a chance of claiming justice from their governments who have failed to protect them.

Taddei added: “We have been fighting for years to ensure people affected by air pollution are able to take their governments to court when they fail to act. The new rules on access to justice and compensation deliver much needed clarity and will play a crucial role in achieving cleaner and healthier air for everyone.”


Notes to editors:

ClientEarth is currently supporting individuals in BelgiumGermanyItaly and Poland to take legal action against their national governments, looking to recognise the human right to healthy air in court.

The Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD) are a cornerstone of European Union legislation aimed at regulating and improving air quality across Member States. Its primary objective is to protect human health and the environment by setting specific air quality standards and emission limits for various air pollutants, including particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), lead (Pb), benzene, and ozone (O3).

Air pollution is responsible for around 300,000 premature deaths annually in Europe, making it the foremost environmental threat to our health. Air pollution contributes to a wide range of health issues, including heart attacks, strokes, respiratory problems, diabetes, dementia, delayed cognitive development in children and lung cancer.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.