Update of the EU Legislation for Air Pollution: Time to Take Action

At the end of October, the EU Commission presented a proposal for updating the guidelines on air quality. The stricter limits for individual air pollutants may be considered the core part. Additionally, the proposal stresses the relevance of air quality more than the previous legislation. Below you will find a short summary:

In 2020, the European Green Deal already included the reference that the EU limit values should be more closely aligned with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Last year, the WHO significantly tightened its recommended guideline values to consider the scientific findings on health effects gained in recent years. Even though the new thresholds in the EU Commission’s draft are not as strict as the WHO recommendations that have been in force since 2021, they have become much more rigorous. For NO2, for example, they mean that more than half of German cities currently do not comply with the new limit value of 20 µg. According to the draft, there is time until 2030 to ensure compliance with the new thresholds through appropriate measures.

In addition to tightening the thresholds, the draft introduces a compensation claim for citizens who suffer health problems due to air pollutants, and the EU air quality regulations are violated. Collective compensation claims for damages by non-governmental organisations are also to be possible.

In addition, better information for the public on air quality is also planned.

Next, the EU Parliament and the EU Council will decide on the EU Commission’s proposal. Approval by the EU Council is expected, so cities need to take action, as most cities’ current air quality plans will not be sufficient for complying with the new thresholds.

Individual citizen’s right to clean air

State liability for health damage caused by air pollution

An opinion of the European Justice Court (EJC) published in May within a vote of the Advocate General defines under which conditions and criteria individual citizens can claim damages from the state. The following three primary conditions apply:

1. The limit values laid down in the EU directive have been exceeded

2. The violation of this directive must be qualifiable and reproachable, i.e., no effective air pollution control plans were drawn up and implemented despite the limit values being exceeded

3. A causal connection between the qualified violation of the directive and the damage to health that occurred must be proven – in this case, however, it could be sufficient that the injured party spent a sufficiently long time in an environment for which the limit values were exceeded. Read more

European Environment Agency presents the report on the state of air quality

In its report published in April, the European Environment Agency (EEA) presents air pollution levels by pollutant in 2020 and 2021. Pollutant concentrations are presented in relation to EU air quality standards and WHO guidelines. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already adjusted its recommendations significantly downwards in autumn 2021, considering the latest research findings on air pollution-related health risks. Read more