Select Committee on European Scrutiny Fourteenth Report


COM(05) 447

+ ADD 1
Draft Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe

Commission Staff Working Paper: Annex to the Commission Communication "Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution" and the Directive on "Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe" - Impact Assessment

Legal baseArticle 175EC; co-decision; QMV
Document originated21 September 2005
Deposited in Parliament 25 November 2005
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration EM of 8 December 2005
Previous Committee Report None, but see footnote 10
To be discussed in Council No date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information awaited


3.1 According to the Commission, air pollution is both a local and a trans-boundary problem, with ground level ozone and particulate matter ("fine dust") being of most concern to health,[8] whilst environmental damage arises from the deposition of acidifying substances;[9] from excess nutrient nitrogen; and from ground level ozone. It says that the need for cleaner air has been recognised for many years, with action having been taken at both national and Community levels, as well as through active participation in international conventions, and with the Community having focused (among other things) on establishing minimum quality standards for ambient air and tackling the problems of acid rain and ground level ozone.

3.2 However, the Commission also says that, despite the improvements which have taken place, serious air pollution still persists, leading the Community's Sixth Environmental Action Programme (EAP) to call for the development of a thematic strategy on air pollution. Having examined whether current legislation was sufficient to achieve by 2020 a significant reduction in the risks to human health and the environment from this source, and concluded that significant problems will persist even with effective implementation of current legislation, it put forward in September 2005 a Communication[10] outlining such a strategy, establishing interim objectives and proposing appropriate measures for achieving them.

3.3 As we noted in our Report of 16 November 2005, this Communication highlighted both the reductions in life expectancy, and increases in conditions such as cardiovascular disease and asthma, which will occur if no further action is taken, and suggested that, since there is no known safe level of exposure of humans to certain pollutants, notably particulate matter, a policy choice has to be made about the level of protection which can be achieved by 2020, taking into account the benefits and costs. It therefore outlined, in the light of a set of impact assessments in a Commission Staff Working Paper (also attached as an Annex to this current document), health and environmental objectives and emission reduction targets for the main pollutants, whilst pointing out that a large part of these reductions could be delivered by measures already being implemented by the Member States.

3.4 The Commission added that the steps needed to attain these strategic objectives included a simplification of current air quality legislation, and it proposed that the Air Quality Framework Directive[11] should be combined with the first three "daughter" directives adopted under it, covering respectively sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead,[12] benzene and carbon monoxide,[13] and ozone.[14] It also pointed out that the air quality limit values set by these Directives currently apply throughout the territory of the Member States, whereas experience had shown that there were zones suffering from exceptional problems, and it therefore proposed that Member States should be allowed to request an extension to the deadline for compliance in affected zones if strict criteria are met and plans are in place to move towards compliance.

The current document

3.5 The Commission has now sought in this document to give legislative effect to the intentions set out in its earlier Communication. As such, the proposal would retain the air quality obligations which Member States are currently required to meet, though it has introduced a new provision allowing them up to a further five years to comply, provided they can demonstrate that the limit values in question will be achieved by the end of that period. However, for those limit values which should already have been met, Member States could only invoke this provision in specific areas where the need a rises as a result of site-specific dispersion characteristics, adverse climatic conditions, or trans-boundary pollution.

3.6 The proposal would also introduce a number of changes foreshadowed in the Thematic Strategy. In particular:

  • Member States would be allowed to disregard any natural contributions to pollution levels which would otherwise be included in measurements to establish compliance with a limit value;
  • there would be a non-mandatory provision to reduce ambient levels of the more hazardous fine particles below 2.5 µm in diameter (PM2.5) in 2020 by an average of 20% across each Member State at urban background locations (relative to average concentrations over 2008-2010), though this provision would be reviewed later, with the aim of introducing a mandatory exposure reduction requirement when further monitoring information is available;
  • this step would be accompanied by a mandatory annual average "concentration cap" of 25µg/m3 on PM2.5, to be met in 2010: since this would apply in all locations, it has been set at a relatively high level so as to impose a burden only in the most polluted areas; and
  • new monitoring requirements for fine particles would have to be in place by the beginning of 2008, in order to assess the average concentration over 2008-2010 for the purposes of compliance with the exposure reduction measures and concentration cap.

The Government's view

3.7 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 8 December 2005, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Sustainable Farming and Food) at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Bach) says that the Government is preparing an initial Regulatory Impact Assessment. In the meantime, he points out that the Commission has considered the full financial implications of the proposal from three perspectives — not taking further measures to improve air quality; implementation of the measures to which Member States are already committed (including those in the proposed Directive which are confirmed from the current legislation); and meeting the new objectives proposed for PM2.5.

3.8 He says that, for the existing situation, the Commission estimates that in 2000 there were in the Community as a whole 370,000 premature deaths attributable to air pollution from particles and ozone (of which 41,000 were in the UK), and that the measures already committed will cost €65 billion (£5 billion in the UK). However, despite the improvement in air quality which will result from the measures now in place, the Commission estimates that there will in 2020 still be 293,000 premature deaths (29,000 in the UK), and that the dis-benefits arising from damage to health would be between €189 and €609 billion a year (£15-43 billion in the UK). The Commission puts the cost of delivering in due course a mandatory 20% reduction in PM2.5 levels at about €5 billion a year across the Community as a whole, but suggests that this would deliver benefits of €36-119 billion. On the other hand, it says that the proposed non-mandatory exposure limit would not give rise to either costs (apart from increased monitoring) or benefits, and that, since the proposed concentration cap has been set at a level equivalent to one of the existing objectives which should be met in 2005 for larger particles (PM10), this too should not give rise to additional costs.


3.9 Although the measures now proposed in this document were largely foreshadowed in the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution on which we reported in November 2005, we think it right, bearing in mind the intrinsic importance of the subject, to draw to the attention of the House as well these more detailed legislative proposals on air quality. We will, however, take a final view on them once we have received the Regulatory Impact Assessment which the Government has said it will be providing, and in the mean time we do not clear the document.

8   Ozone is not emitted directly, but is formed through the reaction of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the presence of sunlight. Particulate matter can be emitted directly to the air (so called primary particles) or be formed in the atmosphere as "secondary particles" from gases such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides and ammonia (NH3). Back

9   Nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and ammonia. Back

10   (29600) 12735/05; see HC 34-x (2005-06), para 8 (16 November 2005). Back

11   Directive 1996/62/EC OJ L 296, 21.11.1996, p.55. Back

12   Directive 1999/30/EC OJ L 163, 29.6.1999, p.41. Back

13   Directive 2000/69/EC OJ L 313, 13.12.2000, p.12. Back

14   Directive 2002/3/EC OJ L 67, 9.3.2002, p.14. Back

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