Analysis: Over 100 000 EU citizens could die because of member states' push for weaker air quality laws

Press Release

Brussels, February 25 – As EU negotiators meet in Brussels today to discuss EU air quality laws, research by the European Environmental Bureau shows that approximately 130 000 EU citizens could die prematurely in the coming years because of a push by EU member states to  weaken air quality laws. [1, 2]

Denmark, Romania, Poland, Italy, Spain, the UK and Bulgaria have been particularly vociferous in calling for lower emissions reduction targets [3], despite the clear impact of air pollution on human health and the environment.

France and Germany, for example, seem preoccupied with protecting large-scale industrial farming, which produces high ammonia emissions and is responsible for around 30,000 of these deaths, rather than their citizens. [4]

Louise Duprez, senior air quality policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau, said: 

It is astonishing that governments are pushing for weaker laws which would kill even more of their own citizens. The industrial farming lobby has been fighting tooth and nail to weaken these laws – first by trying to exclude methane, and then by undermining ammonia targets. Why should one sector receive special treatment, when air pollution affects us all?

The EEB calls on EU negotiators to revert to the more ambitious European Commission numbers which were agreed by the European Parliament’s plenary in October.

The Council position also introduced loopholes which are likely to result in even more deaths, which are not accounted for in EEB’s calculations. [5]




[1] See the full data here: 

A summary briefing and methodology is available here:

According to the Council general approach:

  • Approximately 6,000 extra deaths will be caused in Germany by 2030 (on top of the 690,000 in the original proposal from the European Commission). These extra premature deaths are due to relaxed emission limits for ammonia.

  • Approximately 8,500 extra deaths will be caused in France by 2030 (on top of the 460,000 in the original proposal from the European Commission). The large majority – 83% – of these additional deaths come from weakened ammonia limits.

  • Approximately 11,000 extra deaths will be caused in the UK by 2030 (on top of the 375,000 in the original proposal from the European Commission) Around 4,000 of these additional deaths will come from weaker ammonia limits.

  • Approximately 10,000 extra deaths will be caused in Spain by 2030 (on top of the 285,000 in the original proposal from the European Commission). Approximately 2,000 of these deaths will come from ammonia.

  • Approximately 15,000 extra deaths will be caused in Italy by 2030 (on top of the 650,000 in the original proposal from the European Commission)

 [2] These calculations refer to the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive sets limits to the amount of pollution every EU country can emit on a yearly basis. Currently, the EU is looking at setting new caps for 2020, 2025 and 2030 for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4). The European Parliament broadly backed the European Commission’s proposal in a plenary vote on 28 October. The European Council adopted its position on December 16.

Negotiations between the European Commission, Council and Parliament begin on February 25th, and are expected to conclude by the summer of 2016.

Air pollution continues to cause hundreds of thousands of premature deaths in the EU every year, as well as significant damage to nature, crops and buildings. See 2015 EEA air quality report:

[3] Member states’ additional death rates added on in the Council can be ranked by absolute extra deaths and by percentage deviation from the Commission proposal – see the ‘Rankings’ tab in the dataset: 

[4] See data and briefing for data on France and Germany.

In the EU, 80% of ammonia emissions come from less than 10% of farms. See TASK FORCE ON INTEGRATED ASSESSMENT MODELLING (TFIAM), 44th session, Chairs report, page 6, available here:

Airborne ammonia forms secondary PM, which causes acute long and short term health effects as well as premature mortality . See EEA Air Quality in Europe 2015 report

[5] Member States including France, Italy, Germany and the UK – are also pushing for so-called ‘flexibilities’, which would render the targets unenforceable: