Zoltán Massay-Kosubek

It is astonishing that even the current, ‘doing less’ Commission which believes in no regulation and self-regulation, decided to act on countries breaching the air pollution standards. But is it enough to make a difference? How many scandals do we need until policy action on air quality is being seriously considered?

Air pollution infrigements on the horizon?

Continous violation of many air quality standards resulted this environmental health emergency situation.
Most recently, Commissioner Vella was mandated by #TeamJunckerEU, the leadership of the Commission to use harsh rhetoric against 9 member states not fulfiling their legal obligations to provide clean air. It is unclear whether those ‘air quality pariah’ will face legal challenges and penalties at the end of the day.

Then we thought that the 2015 Volkswagen scandal with fake emission data was the worse which would immediately enable policy action at member states level. We all know that it did not happen as the general publiv most likely expected. Instead of that, we face a new VW scandal: “irresponsible” and “unethical approach by bringing live subjects, animals and humans to the test for prolonged exposure to vehicle emissions.

Health protection and emission reduction go hand in hand

Air pollution and its impact on human health makes the case that health benefits can be identified in other, non-health EU policies. Despite increasing awareness of the health impacts of air pollution over decades and various policy initiatives at international, European, national and regional / city levels, air pollution remains the largest environmental health risk in Europe. The OECD projects that the market costs of air pollution (reduced productivity, additional health expenditure, crop losses, etc.) will increase to 2% of European GBP by 2060. However, this is estimated to be equivalent to just one tenth of the non-market costs, including those of illness, ecosystem damage and climate change (1).

The evidence on air pollution and health is there: The Lancet Commission on pollution and health

The Lancet Commission on pollution and health addresses the full health and economic costs of air, water, and soil pollution. Through analyses of existing and emerging data, the Commission reveals pollution’s severe and underreported contribution to the Global Burden of Disease. It uncovers the economic costs of pollution to low-income and middle-income countries. The Commission will inform key decision makers around the world about the burden that pollution places on health and economic development, and about available cost-effective pollution control solutions and strategies.

David and Goliath

On the one hand you have the EU citizens who suffer, pay and finally die due to air pollution and try to transform themselves to an organised civil society by initiative such as the Unmask my city campaign. However, those valuable but limited initatives are only drops in the ocean and is only maybe a piece of stone only thrown by the Dávid os NGOs to the Goliath of polluting industries having apparently almost unlimited resources to effective interest representation.

Tackling air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions requires similar approaches and serves both respiratory health and mitigates climate change; a transition towards a sustainable food system can deliver better nutrition, climate change mitigation and a more efficient natural resource use, while helping to prevent antimicrobial resistance. Policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whilst also delivering cleaner air, increased physical activity, reduced road traffic accidents and better mental health, can deliver huge health and wellbeing benefits now and into the future.

Air pollution remains a major health concern across the EU. The EU must – and has the power – to act to protect the health of its citizens, halt premature deaths and keep health systems sustainable.

(1) – OECD (2016), The economic consequences of outdoor air pollution, OECD publishing, Paris.

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