EU regulation requirements

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“We must resolve the implementation deficit urgently, to pave the way for deeper reductions in air pollution and its impacts on our lives. That is why I asked the EEA to set up the cities pilot, and the lessons learned will be taken up in the forthcoming review of EU air policy.”

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment

Air-related legislation in the EU aims to protect human health and the environment from pollution. But this legislation is not always fully implemented as a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) clearly demonstrates.

The report, published in June 2013, is the result of collaboration between the EEA, the European Commission and 12 cities which participated in the Air Implementation Pilot project: Antwerp (Belgium), Berlin (Germany), Dublin (Ireland), Madrid (Spain), Malmö (Sweden), Milan (Italy), Paris (France), Ploiesti (Romania), Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Prague (Czech Republic), Vienna (Austria), and Vilnius (Lithuania).

Several air quality standards are still regularly exceeded in Europe, even though some of these limits were established more than a decade ago. The most problematic pollutants are particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen oxides (NO2) and ozone (O3), which still affect people’s quality and length of life in many areas.

The measures to improve air quality applied vary from city to city, but some common features can be identified. For instance, in agreement with the main sources identified, in most of the cities more than the 50 % of the implemented measures are traffic related.

Some of the measures related to road traffic that have been applied by the cities to reduce the concentrations of NO2 and PM10 are:

  • creation of a Low Emission Zone (LEZ);
  • improvement of public transport;
  • promotion of cycling;
  • management of traffic flow;
  • change in speed limits;
  • investment in technology to reduce emissions from public transport.

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Air quality directives — management of air quality

The air quality directives require Member States to prepare, implement, and report plans to improve air quality in case of exceedances of the air quality standards.

• Air quality plans: when a limit or target value is exceeded in a zone, the directives require Member States to establish air quality plans to attain those standards. Member States also have to submit their air quality plans (which in the previous directives were referred to as plans and programmes, (P&Ps)) to the European Commission. Air quality plans are reported to the Commission as an Excel file (the questionnaire on P&Ps, EC, 2004c) that includes:

(1) General information;

(2) Description of the exceedance situation addressed by the air quality plans;

(3) Analysis of the causes of exceedance;

(4) Summary descriptions of individual measures.

• Short-term action plans: measures to be implemented in a zone when there is a risk of exceeding an alert threshold.

• Joint international plans: when exceedances of limit or target values are due to transboundary pollution, Member States have to cooperate and draw up joint activities.

Other aspects relevant for air quality management are:

• Exemptions: Article 22 of the Air Quality Directive 2008/50/EC allowed the Member States to postpone the attainment deadline for the limit values (LV) for PM10 (until 11 June 2011) and for nitrogen dioxide and benzene (until 1 January 2015) if certain conditions are met. Member States have to notify to the Commission where these postponements will apply using the Time Extension Notification (TEN) format, as defined by the European Commission in two Commission Staff Working Papers (EC, 2008b; EC, 2011c). Furthermore, notifications must be accompanied by an air quality plan for the zone or agglomeration concerned.

• Natural sources: when exceedances of limit values are attributable to natural sources, Member States can subtract the natural contributions in order to demonstrate compliance with limit values.

• Winter salting and sanding: when exceedances of limit values are attributable to winter salting or sanding or roads, Member States can subtract these contributions in order to demonstrate compliance with limit values

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