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Plans to tackle key air pollutants insufficient

By: Christer Ågren

The National Emission Reduction Commitments (NEC) Directive is the main legislative instrument to achieve the 2030 objectives of the EU’s Clean Air Programme. When fully implemented, the Directive should nearly halve the negative health impacts of air pollution by 2030 (compared to base year 2005), and significantly reduce negative impacts on ecosystems, crops and materials.

Under the NEC directive, member states have to produce national air pollution control programmes (NAPCP) that set out the additional emission abatement measures needed to achieve their emission reduction commitments for 2020 and 2030.

The first NAPCPs were due by 1 April 2019, but only eight member states submitted their final programmes to the Commission on time. Sixteen more submitted their final programmes by May 2020, while two countries – Italy and Luxembourg – submitted only draft NAPCPs by the same date. Two member states – Greece and Romania – have not yet submitted any programme. As a result, these two countries are now facing legal action.

According to the Commission’s evaluation of the programmes, most countries are not on track to meet their emission reduction commitments (ERC). Member states which do not expect to achieve their ERCs with current policies have to report the additional policies and measures that they considered for adoption and those actually selected in order to fulfil their commitments.

However, the analysis shows that the NAPCPs often lack the information needed. Some examples:

  • Quantified emission reductions are provided for only a small proportion of the “Policies and measures” (PaM), which leads to uncertainty regarding the credibility of the measures and the extent to which they can contribute to meeting national emission reduction commitments.
  • In certain sectors about half of the PaMs reported actually relate to already existing (or already adopted) measures and thus belong in the “With Measures” scenario rather than in the “With Additional Measures” scenario.

H = high risk 
M = medium risk 
L = low risk 
- = not assessed due to late or non-submission

The Commission concludes that “overall, there is insufficient information provided in the NAPCPs about the PaMs to confidently confirm their credibility; information is in particular lacking as regards the projected uptake of the PaMs, their implementation timescale and the level of emissions reductions foreseen.”

An assessment was also made of the risk of non-compliance with the emission reduction commitments, based on the joint analysis of the quality of projections, the credibility of the PaMs selected for adoption in the NAPCPs, and the projected margin of compliance.

It concluded among other things that, for 2020–29 ERCs, out of twenty member states considered in the analysis, fourteen would be at high-risk of non-compliance with ERCs for ammonia (see Table).

As regards the 2030 ERCs, there is even more reason for concern, with more than half of the member states analysed being at high risk of non-compliance with ERCs for four of the five air pollutants (the exception being SO₂). It is concluded that “further measures, additional to the ones presented in the NAPCPs, should therefore be put in place in these member states in order to reduce such risk.”

In its press release, the Commission concludes that most member states are at risk of not complying with their 2020 or 2030 emission reduction commitments and that efforts are especially needed in agriculture to reduce ammonia emissions, which is the most common and severe implementation challenge across the EU.

Effective implementation of clean air legislation is also essential for the Commission’s “Zero-pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment” and related initiatives, such as the “Zero-pollution action plan for water, air and soil”, as announced in the European Green Deal from December 2019.

EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “This report sends a clear message. All across Europe, too many citizens are still at risk from the air they breathe. We need more effective measures to cut pollution in numerous member states and to tackle air emissions across sectors, including agriculture, transport and energy. There has never been a better time to make these changes: investing in cleaner air means investing in citizens’ health, in our climate, and it’s the kick-start our economy needs.”

Alongside the implementation report, the Commission on 26 June also released its consultants’ analysis of each member state’s NAPCP and emission projections, as well as an EU-wide horizontal report bringing together this information.

The implementation report will be followed later this year by a Second Clean Air Outlook report, which will present updated modelling results on the extent to which the EU and its member states are on track to meet their clean air objectives for 2030 and later.

Christer Ågren

Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the progress made on the implementation of Directive (EU) 2016/2284 on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants (COM(2020) 266 final).

Review of National Air Pollutant Projections and Assessment of National Air Pollution Control Programmes. Intermediate Horizontal Review Report for European Commission – DG Environment. By Ricardo Energy & Environment.

Link: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/index_en.htm

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