EU institutions debate new air quality standards

On Monday (June 15), European Environment Ministers at the EU Council held a policy debate on the proposed directive for the reduction of national emissions of atmospheric pollutants.

The need of more stringent air quality standards derives from the adverse impacts of air pollution on health, which is causing over 400 000 premature deaths each year in the EU, the largest environmental cause of death. Atmospheric pollutants other than carbon dioxide (CO2) include sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), methane (CH4), volatile organic compounds other than methane (NMVOC), ammonia (NH3) and particulate matter (PM2,5).

The draft of the new National Emissions Ceiling (NEC) Directive sets out new caps for emissions of air pollutants, including for the first time a requirement to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030, EurActiv reports.

During the EU Council meeting, Ministers expressed their concerns about how the new directive would impact the agricultural sector if any restriction for methane emissions were set. For this reason, the Council reportedly endorsed a compromise text that leaves methane out of the cap system. In this text the cap on ammonia emissions is also softened. Agriculture accounts for roughly a 40 percent share of EU total methane emissions, mostly produced from livestock, and 90 percent of ammonia emissions.

According to Ministers, removing the methane cap would prevent regulatory overlaps with the GHG emissions reduction commitments under the European 2020 target. Critics, however, point out that this target has a too broad scope and does not induce any reduction in methane and ammonia specifically. Louise Duprez, Senior Policy Officer from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), stated in a press release: “The farmers’ lobby is doing everything it can to remove emission limits which would make farming more sustainable and our air cleaner”. “Agriculture must deliver emission reductions just like everybody else”, she added.

Once the Council agrees on its position on the new NEC Directive in September, negotiations with the European Parliament will start. In order to become law, the bill needs to be approved by both institutions.

(Image: EU Council Meeting, Luxembourg, June 2015. Photo credit: EU Council newsroom)