EU air quality improves, but problems remain

Air pollution from nitrogen oxide, notably from transport, fell by 34 percent between 2009 and 2018.

EU air quality improves, but problems remain

Air quality in Europe improved over the last decade, according to a report by the European Environment Agency published Monday.

Poor air and especially exposure to fine particulate matter led to about 379,000 deaths across the bloc in 2018, according to the EEA assessment. That’s 60,000 fewer than in 2009.

“It is good news that air quality is improving,” said Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, adding: “but we can’t ignore the downside: the number of premature deaths in Europe due to air pollution is still far too high.”

Air pollution from nitrogen oxide, notably from transport, fell by 34 percent between 2009 and 2018. Pollution from the energy sector also decreased: sulfur dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels were down 79 percent since 2000.

However, there was less progress in the agricultural sector; emissions from ammonia — used as a fertilizer — fell by only 10 percent over the last decade.

Lockdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic temporarily improved air quality across the EU, the EEA said, noting that “reductions were greatest where lockdown measures were more severe, i.e. in Spain, Italy and France.”

But the EEA noted that “there remains a gap between EU’s legal air quality limits and [World Health Organization] guidelines,” which are tighter. The Commission said it will address this issue by revising EU air quality standards under the Zero Pollution Action Plan expected next year. However not all EU countries back stricter standards.

The EEA also warned that air pollution has negative impacts on ecosystems, hampering EU efforts to fight climate change.