THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- notes that air pollution is still the largest environmental health risk in the EU, responsible for nearly 500 000 premature deaths each year. Air pollution is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, strokes and cancer. It also has significant adverse effects on the climate, ecosystems, the built environment – including cultural heritage – and the economy;
- points to the importance of including the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic in future policies. On the one hand, there is a possible link between air pollution and the gravity of the consequences of infection with the COVID-19 virus; therefore fighting air pollution must be amongst the top priorities of the EU recovery plan. On the other hand, significantly reduced traffic, industrial production and other activities during curfews resulted in significantly less air and noise pollution. Citizens could see more clearly that a healthier environment, less traffic, more open public spaces and nature-based solutions are essential for their well-being. There is strong support for this historic opportunity to build something better;
- supports the European Commission's announcement to propose to more closely align air quality standards to the WHO guidelines, which are currently being revised but draws its attention to the following considerations. Taking into account the high number of Member States that do not meet current standards, it is appropriate to provide for further assistance for implementation where necessary and appropriate and strictly monitored compliance timeframes. The CoR considers emissions rules to be a particularly effective approach, and recommends therefore that more attention be paid to tightening them; at the same time, the CoR welcomes that some Member States, regions or cities can and do already apply stricter limit values on their own initiative if they so wish;
- emphasises the need to focus more on emissions regulation as a better way of achieving clean air by reducing emissions at source (pollution prevention). The NEC directive sets ambitious reduction commitments for the Member States, but EU-wide sectoral regulations are also needed. EU legislation can ensure a more level playing-field, as stricter local emissions reduction requirements may have adverse economic effects. EU legislation should also prevent pollution being shifted to another location.