On December 14th 2016 New Rules for Member States to cut air pollution  have been signed into Law by  the European Parliament and the Council. The new National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive that will enter into force onDecember 31st, 2016 and Member States have till 30 June 2018 to traspose the Directive; the main implementing measure is the National Air Pollution Control Programme, which the Member States must produce by 31 March 2019. According to the most recent European Energy Agency (EEA)  report on Air quality in Europe in 2013, more than 450 000 people are estimated to have died prematurely from air pollution in the EU[1].  The economic cost of the health impacts alone is huge, estimated at EUR 330-940 billion (3-9% of EU GDP).

The NEC Directive sets maximum emission ceilings for each country per year for the five main pollutants: fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, and ammonia. These new 2030 commitments will require substantially deeper reductions than the 2020 ceilings. All sectors are being asked to contribute to the effective implementation of the policy, including agriculture.

It is expected that when fully implemented, the Directive will reduce negative health impacts of air pollution by nearly 50% by 2030. The Directive will equally have substantial benefits for the quality of fresh water, soil, and ecosystems and help address the impacts of harmful particles causing climate change like black carbon.

The Council proposed some additional flexibility for member states. For instance, it introduces the possibility to average annual emissions with emissions of the preceding the year and those of the following. This can be applied when a member state is not in a position to fulfil its commitment one year, due to particularly cold or hot temperatures or to unforeseen economic variations. The possibility to compensate for the non-compliance regarding one pollutant with an equivalent reduction of another for a limited time is also proposed for some cases.Moreover, a member state could be deemed to comply with its obligations in cases of exceptional interruptions or losses of capacity in power or heating supply.


In late 2013, the European Commission (EC) proposed a new Clean Air Policy Package. This package updates existing legislation controlling harmful emissions from industry, traffic, energy plants and agriculture, with a view to reducing their impact on human health and the environment. The Clean Air Policy Package is estimated to prevent 58 000 premature deaths….

Photo credits: European Commission