Air pollution threat highlighted at launch of 2013 Year of Air

Air pollution threat highlighted at launch of 2013 Year of Air

BRUSSELS, 8 January 2012: The beginning of 2013 marks the start of the European Year of Air. At a high-level conference on the future of EU air policies in Europe ‘Blowing the Winds of Change into European Air Policy’, the EEB today called for tightening up EU air policies to protect human health and the environment. A new Eurobarometer poll released today shows that air pollution is a key concern for EU citizens - 72% say that public authorities are not doing enough to promote good air quality and 87% think respiratory diseases are a serious problem. Poor air quality causes nearly half a million premature deaths in Europe each year [1] and is associated with high economic costs; hospital admissions, lost working days and damage to ecosystems.

Current EU standards [2] for ambient air quality are weaker than those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) which are intended to minimize the health effects of air pollutants.[3]  For fine particles (PM2.5), which is one of the pollutants with the highest impact on people’s health, the maximum concentration allowed is 25 µg/m3, currently 2,5 times weaker than what the WHO recommends for this pollutant, and will only enter into force in 2015. In comparison, the US Environmental Protection Agency is this year proposing an annual limit of 12 µg/m3 for PM2.5 which is much more ambitious than the EU standards.[4]

Weak as they are, the EU standards, some of which were agreed more than 10 years ago, are still breached by most EU Member States.

Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General, said “Air pollution emanates from sources all around us, be they cars, industrial plants, shipping, agriculture or waste. The EU must propose ambitious legislation to address all of these sources if it is to tackle the grave public health consequences of air pollution.”

The conference will feature a keynote speech by EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, speeches from Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, Irish Environment Minister Phil Hogan and the chair of the Environment Committee in the European Parliament Matthias Groote MEP. The significant links between climate change and air pollution policies will be highlighted by EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard.

The winning pictures of the Photo Story Exhibition “ImaginAIR” organised by the European Environment Agency (EEA) will be exhibited for the first time at the conference venue throughout the day. The prizes for the competition will be awarded by the Executive Director of the EEA Prof. Jacqueline McGlade and Commissioner Potocnik.




Notes to editors

[1] According to a recent study by the European Topic Centre on Air and Climate Change (ETC/ACC) on behalf of the European Environment Agency (EEA), pollution of fine particles is associated with more than 455,000 premature deaths every year in the EU’s 27 member states.




[5] In 2011, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik announced that the revision of the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive would be postponed to 2013 - the EU Year of Air. All EU air legislation is under review and subject to a public consultation ( which is expected to lead to legislative proposals later in 2013.

[6] The conference, organised in conjunction with the ‘Soot Free for the Climate’ campaign, will take place in Brussels at the Representation of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia to the European Union, and will serve as the launch event of the 2013 Year of Air. There will be an opportunity for photos and questions from 11.45 to 12.00 during and following the EEA photo competition awards ceremony. Journalists with accreditation are invited to attend.


The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe’s largest federation of environmental citizens’ organisations. It is the environmental voice of European citizens, standing for environmental justice, sustainable development and participatory democracy. Our aim is to ensure that the EU secures a healthy environment and rich biodiversity for all.


For any press queries please contact Alison Abrahams, EEB Communications Officer, at on +32 (0) 2289 13 09 or +32 (0) 489 304 962