Press release: 12 May 2021

Zero Pollution Action Plan presents next to zero increase in clean air ambition

Environmental lawyers at charity ClientEarth have reacted to the target to improve air quality in the European Commission’s Zero Pollution Action Plan published today, saying that it fails to put forward any new, ambitious policies that would scale up the level of ambition before 2030.

The plan sets a target of cutting premature deaths from air pollution by more than 55% by 2030 as well as confirming that the Commission will propose aligning EU’s air quality standards more closely with the upcoming recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Reacting to the plan, ClientEarth’s head of clean air Ugo Taddei said: “The 2030 target for air pollution in the plan leaves us basically exactly where we are if policies that are in place right now are fully implemented. It is nothing more than current ambition, repackaged.

“The revision of the Air Quality Directive is a once-in-a generation opportunity to ensure people in the EU are not fated to breathe harmful levels of air pollution for years to come – and if this proposal stays as it is, this chance will be missed.

“If the Commission is really committed to reach ‘zero air pollution’ in the EU, their proposal for new EU air quality standards will fully align with the upcoming, tighter WHO recommendations. This should be a top priority for EU leaders.”


Notes to editors:

Air pollution is the main environmental risk factor for human health in Europe. According to the European Environment Agency, in 2018, exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in Europe was responsible for more than 415,000 premature deaths.

In the Second Clean Air Outlook published in January 2021, the Commission assessed that “The number of premature deaths due to air pollution could be reduced by around 55% in 2030 compared to 2005, if Member States implemented all measures agreed and announced under the existing EU legislation regulating sources of air pollution and limiting climate change”.

EU air quality standards are still less stringent than the standards the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended in 2005. A new update of the WHO guidelines tightening the recommendations is expected by mid-2021.

As part of the EU Green Deal, the Commission already announced in 2019 the intention to revise air quality standards to align them more closely with the WHO recommendations. In December 2020, the Commission published the roadmap for the Revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives, with a proposal for revised legislation expected in Q3 2022.

In a resolution adopted in March 2021, the European Parliament called on the Commission to fully align EU air quality standards with WHO guidelines.

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.