The European Commission has declared 2013 the “Year of Air”. The objectives of the year will be to revise the EU Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, raise awareness about air quality and pollution, encourage Member States to cooperate more efficiently and to launch more effective measures to improve the air that citizens breathe. The European Commission has already started a comprehensive review of existing legislation on air quality that could lead to changes in, for example, the National Emissions Ceiling Directive (2001) or the Clean Air For Europe Directive (2008). It intends to publish a communication on the revision of the EU policy on air quality in autumn 2013.
The EU has been tackling air pollution since the 1970s and setting standards since the 1990s. Significant progress has been made, for example in improving fuel quality and controlling harmful emissions into the atmosphere - since the 1990s, air pollution by almost all relevant identified pollutants has been reduced - Nitrous oxides (NOx) are down by 39%, sulphur dioxide by 78%, heavy metals between 60-90%. However, air pollution is still a problem in the EU, mainly as a result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels or biomass and the dramatic rise in traffic on the roads. The European limit and target values for ambient air quality are higher than those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, and some that were established more than ten years ago are still not being respected by the Member States. US air quality legislation is much stricter than that of the EU. Air pollution is cited as the main cause of lung conditions such as asthma (there are twice as many sufferers today compared to 30 years ago), and as the cause of over 350 000 premature deaths in the EU every year.
The Air and Climate Unit of the IES carries out scientific research and provides integrated assessments and analyses in support of EU air quality, climate and related policies. It evaluates emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, and measures and models health-related atmospheric components and how they interact with ecosystems and climate. The Unit is also very active in harmonising and standardising monitoring and modelling techniques through various European and international laboratory networks and forums. Its activities are carried out by two Actions:
- The Air and Climate Analysis (ACA) Action measures and monitors air pollution, focusing on the health impacts, processes, sources and the effectiveness of policy measures. In 2013 it will support the European Commission’s review of the Thematic Strategy for Air Pollution and address the implementation of current and future EU air policies.
- The Air and Climate Foresight (ACF) Action assesses global emission trends, concentrations and impacts of air pollution and greenhouse gases to make short-term climate change and air quality forecasts. In 2013 it will develop emission inventories, analyse long-term greenhouse gas concentrations and fluxes, and explore urban integrated climate and air quality analyses.
Among other events to be held in 2013, the IES will be very involved in the organisation and delivery of the 2013 Green Week, which will be held in Brussels, 4-7 June. The theme of this year’s Green Week is ‘Cleaner Air for All’.
- Simultaneously mitigating Near-term climate change and improving human health and food security (January 2012)
- Trends in Global CO2 emissions continued upwards in 2011 (July 2012)
- IES study finds air quality improved as a result of EU policies (August 2012)
- Air & Climate – Conversations about Molecules and Planets, with Humans in between (November 2012)