As some Chinese news agencies are referring to military benefits of the recent high  smog levels in Shanghai, the EU Commission’s Clean Air Package presented on December 18, 2013, plans to keep EU citizens’ respiratory system healthy. Air quality is the number one environmental cause of premature death in the EU. The direct costs to society from air pollution, including damage to crops and buildings, amount to about €23 billion per year. The benefits to people’s health from implementing the package are around €40 billion a year, over 12 times the costs of pollution abatement, which are estimated to reach € 3.4 billion per year in 2030. Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “The air we breathe today is much cleaner than in past decades. But air pollution is still an ‘invisible killer’ and it prevents many people from living a fully active life. The actions we are proposing will halve the number of premature deaths from air pollution, increase protection for the vulnerable groups who need it most, and improve quality of life for all. It’s also good news for nature and fragile ecosystems, and it will boost the clean technology industry – an important growth sector for Europe.”Health Commissioner Tonio Borg added: “I wholeheartedly welcome the adoption of the clean air package which sets Europe on the right track to achieve clean air for all in the long term. The new air policy will translate into Europeans living healthier and longer lives: fewer children developing asthma or other respiratory problems, fewer people suffering from cancer, chronic respiratory diseases or cardiovascular diseases and finally fewer people dying from what air pollution does to people’s health.

A new Eurobarometer survey published on December 17, 2013 shows that European citizens are concerned by the negative impacts of urban mobility and many of them are pessimistic about the prospects for improving mobility in their cities. A large majority consider congestion (76%), air quality (81%) and accidents (73%) to be serious problems. Less than a quarter believe that the situation will improve in the future (24%) and most believe it will stay the same (35%) or get worse (37%).

The package includes:

  • A new Clean Air Programme for Europe with measures to ensure that existing targets are met in the short term, and new air quality objectives for the period up to 2030. The package also includes support measures to help cut air pollution, with a focus on improving air quality in cities, supporting research and innovation, and promoting international cooperation
  • A revised National Emission Ceilings Directive with stricter national emission ceilings for the six main pollutants , and
  • A proposal for a new Directive to reduce pollution from medium-sized combustion installations, such as energy plants for street blocks or large buildings, and small industry installations.

By 2030, and compared to business as usual, the clean air policy package is estimated to:

  • avoid 58 000 premature deaths,
  •  save 123 000 km2 of ecosystems from nitrogen pollution (more than half the area of Romania),
  • save 56 000 km2 protected Natura 2000 areas (more than the entire area of Croatia) from nitrogen pollution,
  • save 19 000 km2forest ecosystems from acidification.

According to the Commission: health benefits alone will save society €40-140 billion in external costs and provide about €3 billion in direct benefits due to higher productivity of the workforce, lower healthcare costs, higher crop yields and less damage to buildings. The proposal will also add the equivalent of around 100 000 additional jobs due to increased productivity and competitiveness because of fewer workdays lost. It is estimated to have a positive net impact on economic growth. (Picture: courtesy Daimler: no emissions from this fuel cell car in Europe’s antique cities’ alleys)