Member States Seem Ready to Undermine Proposed Air Quality Legislation, Says Civil Society


The Council of the EU’s Position on Proposed Ambient Air Quality Directives Disregards Science and Weakens Legislation


The recent adoption by the Council of the EU of its negotiating position on the proposed Ambient Air Quality Directives (AAQD) has been seen as a significant setback in efforts to strengthen air quality standards throughout the European Union. Despite moving negotiations forward, the Council’s position completely ignores scientific evidence regarding air pollution impacts and economic burden analysis, introducing significant derogations and possibilities for member states to postpone the deadline for compliance with air quality standards. While this may seem like a step forward, the legislation is now at risk of being undermined by legal frameworks that lack any enforceability, leaving many concerned for the future of air quality in our cities.

The Impact of Derogations and Long-Term Compliance Deadlines

The Council’s decision to introduce derogations and possibilities for member states to postpone compliance with air quality standards from 2030 to 2040 or beyond has been a major cause for concern amongst civil society groups. Margherita Tolotto, Policy Manager for Air at the European Environmental Bureau, has expressed particular concern regarding the lack of focus on citizens’ health, whilst Emma Bud of ClientEarth has highlighted the shocking nature of the proposal with regard to socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

This lack of ambition has also been criticised for delaying compliance by at least 10 years after 2030, which is in stark contrast to the urgent need for action to reduce air pollution in our cities. Critics have pointed out that dirty diesel and petrol cars will continue to pollute for years to come, despite the immediate need for action to improve air quality.

The Human Cost of Air Pollution

Ambient air quality directives are a cornerstone of EU legislation aimed at regulating and improving air quality across member states. The primary objective is to protect human health and the environment by setting specific air quality standards and emission limits for various air pollutants, including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, benzene, and ozone. According to recent research, around 300,000 premature deaths occur annually in Europe due to air pollution, making it the foremost environmental threat to our health. Air pollution contributes to a range of health issues, including heart attacks, strokes, respiratory problems, diabetes, dementia, delayed cognitive development in children, and lung cancer.


ClientEarth, as a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change, is tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens globally. The group holds industry and governments accountable and defends everyone’s right to a healthy world.

Whilst it is incumbent on both the European Commission and the European Parliament to ensure an ambitious AAQD is achieved during the trilogue negotiations, the Council’s position undermines the urgent need for action and protection for citizens’ health. Jonathon Porritt’s organisation, Forum for the Future, noted the importance of achieving political progress amid daunting systemic challenges. The inability to act now and provide critical services and infrastructure for communities raises the risk and cost of environmental degradation, affecting essential public resources and reducing the quality of life for countless individuals.

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