The European Commission now estimates that a majority of member states are off-target to deliver on their air pollution reduction commitments for 2020 and 2030.
In its first report on progress towards EU air pollution targets, the commission said that member states need to step up efforts to make sure their citizens can breathe clean air.
Every year, air pollution causes about 400,000 premature deaths in the EU and hundreds of billions of euros in health-related external costs.
“We need more effective measures to cut pollution in member states and to tackle air emissions across sectors, including agriculture, transport and energy,” EU commissioner for the environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said on Friday (26 June).
The analysis, based on EU countries’ emissions projections submitted to the commission last year, estimates that just 10 member states will meet its 2020 air pollution reduction targets.
And only Croatia, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Finland are expected to comply with their 2030 goals.
According to the commission, most non-compliance is related to the projected emission reduction commitments on ammonia (NH3) – typically used as a fertiliser for crops such as maize and wheat.
However, the Farm to Fork strategy proposed by the EU Commission last month aims to cut the EU’s fertiliser use by 20 percent in the next decade – a move that could help steer countries towards reducing ammonia emissions.
The EU executive also expressed concern on biodiversity – since air pollution also leads to acidification, eutrophication and formation of ground-level ozone – all of which are detrimental to biodiversity.
But the data reported by member states so far is insufficiently representative and adequate to estimate the real effect of air pollution on the European ecosystems, according to the commission.
Following the coronavirus lockdown measures, satellite images revealed that air pollution dramatically decreased across the bloc.
However, recent studies show that levels of nitrogen dioxide are rebounding strongly in European capitals as countries start reopening their economies.
Car emissions increase – again
Meanwhile, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new cars and vans registered in the bloc increased again in 2019 for the third consecutive year, according to preliminary data published by the European Environment Agency on Friday.
One of the reasons include the growing market share of so-called sport utility vehicles – which are typically heavier, have more powerful engines and are powered by petrol, resulting in higher emissions than the average of other new petrol cars.
Carmakers are obliged to comply with the EU’s emissions standards – a fleet-wide average of 95 grams per kilometre of CO2 – to avoid fines from the commission.
However, according to Julia Poliscanova from Brussels-based NGO Transport and Environment, “it is a scandal that one year out from their CO2 target, carmakers are still pushing gas-guzzling SUVs [sport utility vehicles]”.
“Carmakers who recklessly choose to push lucrative SUVs are now asking for taxpayers’ money to prolong the polluting bonanza,” she said.
These vehicles could qualify to receive post-coronavirus stimulus incentives under emissions thresholds being discussed in Italy and Spain.
Although the market penetration of electric cars remained slow in 2019, the EU agency stressed that “zero- and low-emission vehicles must be deployed much faster across Europe to achieve the stricter targets that apply from 2020”.
Last year, most hybrid and battery-electric vehicles were registered in Norway (56 percent), Iceland (19 percent), the Netherlands (16 percent) and Sweden (12 percent).
Among others, the Netherlands, Norway, France, the UK, Sweden and Ireland have already announced plans to phase-out vehicles with internal combustion engine between 2025 and 2040.