year of air
2013 has been earmarked by The European Commission (EC) as the "Year of Air". This is a big opportunity to improve public health by tightening controls on air quality, as many key pieces of European air pollution law will be overhauled. Before looking at what the EC will be doing, here's a list of some of the areas where more action is needed:

  • More research into the impacts of air pollution and health to generate hard scientific data that will drive policy. We need to know more about specific pollutants, specific health conditions (e.g. asthma) and specific target population groups (e.g. the elderly who are not included in medical research as often as they ought to be).
  • An overview of controls on vehicles – of which there are many types: use of cleaner technology, with more restriction on older/dirtier vehicles, restriction on movement of vehicles (e.g. congestion charging – why has this not spread to other cities?).
  • Focus on the collection and dissemination of data on air pollution (the Daily Air Quality Index is a good example).
  • Emphasis on personal behaviour (incentivising use of public transport, walking, cycling) and educating people to be more aware of the impact of habits such as engine idling.
  • The realisation that indoor air pollution is as great a problem (if not more so) than outdoor air pollution.

To find out whether the EU Year of Air will be covering all this, you may have to dig a little. But, as with all matters EU-related, all the information will be there online. At the moment, it is all about speech-making and consultation which, hopefully, will be turned into action over the next few years.

The EU's web page on the Year of Air notes that the most recent wave of policy was launched in 2005 and designed to make substantial progress towards the long-term EU objective: "to achieve levels of air quality that do not result in unacceptable impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment." This objective is confirmed in the recently-adopted 'Proposal for a new EU Environment Action Programme to 2020'. The EU admits there is still a long way to go before it is achieved which is why now is a good time for a thorough review and further push. Therefore a mandate for a review was passed at the start of 2011, recognising the pressing need for action to improve air quality, which is a shared responsibility requiring joint efforts from all Member States. The mandate focused on a number of immediate measures plus a requirement for a comprehensive review of EU's air policy by 2013 at the latest. Some of the immediate measures have been completed, namely:

  • The revision of the Directive on the sulphur content of bunker fuels has been recently adopted;
  • The revision of the UNECE Gothenburg Protocol establishing international controls on air pollution has been successfully negotiated.

Others are ongoing: the recent Cars 2020 Communication set out a timetable for the successful implementation of the Euro 6 vehicle standards in real-world driving conditions, and the revision of the Non-road Mobile Machinery legislation is also scheduled for 2013.
For the review of air pollution policy, the Commission has been consulting through a number of Stakeholder Expert Groups, involving a wide range of participants from the Member States, industry, non-governmental organisations and international stakeholders. The last of five Stakeholder Expert Group meetings are scheduled for April 3rd 2013. There have also been online public consultations for the review, which closed on March 4th (the report on this should be available soon, if not already). So, in short, the scene is set for further action. Of course, the UK must play its part in the Year of Air, so it is concerning that Clean Air in London claims that there are moves afoot to use this opportunity to weaken legislation by introducing an element of flexibility. This must not be allowed to happen – for the 2013 EU push is a real chance to improve air quality standards in Europe.

More information:
Review of the European Union Air policy