EU Auditors hit out at ‘very slow progress’ on reducing air pollutants from agriculture

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

EU action to protect human health from air pollution has not delivered its expected impact, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors.

In terms of Agriculture it noted that the sector accounts for 94pc of ammonia (NH3) emissions in the EU. Ammonia is a precursor of Particulate matter (PM).

It said the European Environment Agency (EEA) indicates that NH3 emissions from agriculture contribute to episodes of high PM concentrations experienced across certain regions of Europe that breach limit values in EU regulations.

The Auditors said although EU policies regulate agricultural practices, progress on reducing air pollutants from agriculture has been very slow and since 2012, NH3 emissions have even increased.

It also said that despite the existence of technically and economically viable measures such as agronomic, livestock or energy measures, they have yet to be adopted at the scale and intensity necessary to deliver significant emission reductions.

Every year, air pollution causes about 400,000 premature deaths in the EU and hundreds of billions of euros in health-related external costs.

However, these significant human and economic costs have not yet been reflected in adequate action across the Union, warn the auditors.

They add that particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ground level ozone are the air pollutants responsible for most of the early deaths and that people in urban areas are particularly exposed.

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The 2008 Ambient Air Quality Directive is the cornerstone of the EU’s clean air policy, as it sets air quality standards for the concentrations of pollutants in the air.

The auditors assessed the Directive’s design, whether Member States had implemented it effectively and how the Commission had monitored and enforced it.

Moreover, they assessed whether air quality was adequately reflected in other EU policies and supported by EU funds, and whether the public has been well informed on air quality matters.

“Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to health in the European Union,” said Janusz Wojciechowski, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “In recent decades, EU policies have contributed to emission reductions, but air quality has not improved at the same rate and there are still considerable impacts on public health.”

EU air quality standards were set almost twenty years ago, and the auditors found that some of them are much weaker than the World Health Organisation guidelines and what the latest scientific evidence suggests.

The auditors said while emissions of air pollutants have been decreasing, most Member States still do not comply with the EU’s air quality standards and are not taking enough effective action to improve air quality, say the auditors.

It says there is also a risk that air pollution has been underestimated because it may not have been monitored in the right places. Air Quality Plans – a key requirement under the Ambient Air Quality Directive – have often not delivered their expected results.

There are limitations in the European Commission’s monitoring of Member States’ performance in meeting air quality targets. Its enforcement procedures so far have not ensured that Member States comply with the air quality limits set by the Directive. Despite the Commission taking legal action against many Member States and achieving favourable rulings, Member States continue to breach air quality limits frequently, say the auditors.

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