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As the European Parliament plenary prepares to vote on the revised Ambient Air Quality Directive on 13 September 2023, BEST-COST urges MEPs to vote in favour and stand for definitive action on air pollution to protect our health.

If approved, the European Parliament’s report aims to strengthen the Directive through revisions proposed by the Parliament’s Environment and Health Committee (ENVI). These changes will call for stricter rules for several pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone (O3), to ensure the EU rules are fully aligned to the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines. These proposals are a welcome step that go beyond the revisions proposed by the European Commission, which called for closer but not full alignment to WHO’s guidelines. If the Parliament’s position is adopted in the final text, Member States will be required to provide roadmaps containing short and long-term measures to comply with the new proposed requirements. The Directive will also look to increase the number of air quality sampling points and increase citizen access to clear information regarding real-time air pollution levels, while urging Member States to consider the needs of vulnerable populations.

Across Europe people are exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution, causing long-term consequences for our health. 96% of the EU’s urban population is exposed to health-damaging levels of air pollution. This can include respiratory and cardiac diseases, exacerbated symptoms of existing conditions, and worsened morbidity and mortality rates. Heart disease and stroke are the most common reasons for premature death from air pollution, followed by lung diseases and lung cancer. BEST-COST is exploring the socioeconomic costs of air and noise pollution, but policymakers must implement evidence-based policies at European, national and local level to reduce pollution levels and consider the unequal socioeconomic impacts felt by the population.

By voting through the Directive, policymakers will have the opportunity to address the unequal socioeconomic consequences of pollution. Currently, 98.4% of Europe’s region does not meet the WHO’s latest air quality guidelines and the discrepancy is felt more so in Eastern Europe than Western Europe. Disadvantaged and vulnerable communities across Europe are also more likely to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution and are less able to evade the damaging impacts. While initiatives such as publicly available information on pollution levels can guide citizens on avoiding peak pollution levels, Member States must also recognise that people should be protected from exposure from the start.

EU Member States and policymakers need to commit to reducing pollution levels which threaten our health and wellbeing. The European Parliament vote on the Directive is a crucial step in achieving this. Our health must not be left exposed to harmful environmental threats.

The proposals, if passed, will then be considered by EU Member States. If the revised Directive is adopted, its measures will be gradually implemented across the EU.