Although air quality in Europe has improved over recent decades, air pollution remains the single biggest environmental threat to health. At the end of 2022, the European Commission put forward a revision of EU rules governing this area, coupled with more ambitious targets to be met by 2030, with the aim of reaching “Zero Pollution” by 2050. The text was adopted by the European Parliament on 24 April 2024 and is awaiting adoption by the European Council(1).

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), air quality in Europe continues to improve. Yet in many regions, and particularly in towns and cities, pollution remains above the recommended safety levels. In 2022, nearly all (96%) Europeans living in urban areas were exposed to small particulate (PM2,5) concentrations above the 5 µg/m³ set out in the WHO 2021 annual guidelines, and ozone concentrations above the 100 µg/m³ short-term level also set out by the guidelines(2). Out of 27 countries, only Iceland showed particulate concentrations below the level recommended by the WHO.

Overall, air pollution in the EU is responsible for 300,000 premature deaths a year and many chronic illnesses. The aim of the European Green Deal’sZero Pollution” action plan is to reduce premature deaths linked to small particulates by at least 55% of 2005 levels by 2030, with the long term aim of eliminating its significant health implications by 2050.

New rules adopted in late April

The law passed by the European Parliament on 24 April specifies stricter target limits and values to be met by 2030 for pollutants with the most serious impacts on human health, especially small particulates (PM2,5, PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2). It also stipulates that “more air quality sampling points will also be set up in cities” so that air quality indexes “become comparable, clear and publicly available”.

Another talking point is that “if the new national rules are violated, those affected by air pollution will be able to take legal action, and citizens may receive compensation if their health has been affected”.

Conversely, the law also permits Member States to “request that the 2030 deadline be postponed by up to ten years, if specific conditions are met”.

However, although the proposed revisions, which are based on the WHO recommendations, were primarily targeted at a better alignment of the EU’s air quality standards, the EEA points out that the standards adopted in February 2024 remain less strict for pollutants than those put forward by the WHO.

The impact of long-term exposure to multiple pollutants under increased scrutiny

Until recently, studies focused primarily on the health implications of individual air pollutants, but research is now increasingly focused on the consequences for health of long-term exposure to multiple pollutants. Examples include a recent study by the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) published in late May, which examined the impact of long-term exposure to multiple pollutants by focusing on geographical areas with large industrial plants that have a history of air pollution, such as the Ruhr valley in Germany and Taranto in Italy. The study puts forward four concrete solutions: taking the effects on health into increased account when legislating on air pollutants; reducing air pollutants in Europe; reducing air pollutant concentrations in Europe; reducing demand for energy, transport and farming.  We can only hope that this report, which goes beyond the requirement to simply measure levels (commonly done but inconsistently followed up) – is read and actioned, as the real issue here is reducing emissions and concentrations.


France launches four targeted calls for projects

The French Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe) has renewed its calls for projects relating to air quality: AACT-Air, AgriQAir, Fonds Air Bois and AQACIA. AACT-Air concerns funding for local authority-led studies; AgriQAir works on funding for experimentation, evaluation and dissemination of effective ammonia (NH3) and particulate (PM2,5 and PM10) emission-reducing solutions for the agricultural sector; and Fonds Air Bois focuses on funding for local authorities to support the accelerated replacement of inefficient domestic wood-burning appliances in order to reduce small particulate emissions (particularly PM2,5). AQACIA   concerns funding for research projects.

These calls for projects are part of the second French National Plan for the Reduction of Air Pollutant Emissions (PREPA) for the period 2022-2025. Their objective is to “anticipate and support the implementation of public policies aimed at improving air quality, alongside other funds such as the Qualité de l’air roadmaps for regions in conflict with such policies and which is also managed by Ademe or the state-run low-emissions green fund (ZFE)”.

Working towards an Air-, Health-, Climate-, Energy integrated approach

During its General Assembly on 23 May, Atmo France(3) reasserted the close correlation between air pollution and climate change. According to its chairman, Catherine Hervieu, “reducing polluting activities also implies reducing our GHG emissions” but “at the same time, actions aimed at climate protection can degrade both exterior and interior air quality if they are not subject to specific provisions”. A case in point is thermal renovation: while it helps to reduce energy consumption and therefore GHG emissions, special attention must also be paid to indoor air quality issues, to avoid any degradation in case of poor or no ventilation. Another example is the use of wood fuel, which can favourably impact GHG emissions but may release significant amounts of pollutants, seriously affecting health. All this strengthens the case for “an integrated, cross-policy approach to these challenges”.  According to Atmo France, this has yet to be fully realised.


1) The law can then be published in the EU Official Journal and would come into force twenty days later. Member States would then have two years to enforce the new rules.

2) As a reminder, particulate matter is mainly produced by the combustion of fossil fuels from domestic heating, road transport and industrial activities

3) Atmo France is a federation of approved air quality monitoring associations made up of 18 regional associations (AASQA) working with more than 720 fixed and mobile measuring stations  throughout France.


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