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Europe Advances Stricter Air Quality Law, Giving Citizens New Rights

ECOLOGYEurope Advances Stricter Air Quality Law, Giving Citizens New Rights

On February 20, the European Parliament and the EU Council reached a preliminary political agreement on an amended air quality directive. The new law will implement global WHO guidelines on air quality standards. Thanks to the amended directive, the annual permissible value for fine particulate matter PM2.5 will be reduced by over half. In the course of work on the regulations, there were proposals to postpone this deadline for selected countries until 2040. ClientEarth Foundation appealed to the government to support ambitious regulations to combat smog.

“Firstly, it is about adjusting air quality standards to the recommendations of the World Health Organization, doctors, and epidemiologists. Secondly, the adoption of effective legal frameworks so that these new standards can be implemented as soon as possible and guarantee society the right of access to justice in matters relating to air quality,” says Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan, a lawyer from the ClientEarth Lawyers for the Earth Foundation, to Newseria Biznes agency.

The EU Council and European Parliament have decided to amend the air quality directive (AAQD), which is the most important law regulating air quality in the European Union. The draft new regulations aim, among other things, to adapt regulations to the latest scientific knowledge and to raise air quality standards to the standards of the World Health Organization (WHO), enable EU citizens to co-decide on how to reduce smog, and provide the possibility for individuals who have fallen ill from polluted air to claim compensation.

This directive clearly states that citizens and non-governmental organizations will have the right to appeal air protection decisions in court. This is an important change because, for example, in Poland we still have a very big problem with citizens and non-governmental organizations being able to realistically evaluate the corrective actions carried out by public authorities. Moreover, the new regulations also introduce the possibility of compensation for individuals as a result of harm suffered due to poor air quality – says Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan.

As she assesses, it will not, however, result in an outbreak of new court cases, as it will still be a challenge to prove a causal link between the harm suffered and the poor quality and pollution of air. However, it is important that such a possibility appears.

For Poland, this will not be a big change, as judgments have already been made on the basis of the regulations on the protection of personal goods – says the lawyer. – However, this will be an important change for many other European Union countries. A change that could lead to faster implementation of air quality standards recommended by medical organizations and epidemiologists.

The ClientEarth Foundation quotes the latest research published in the “International Journal of Public Health”, which shows that postponing the introduction of new standards by 10 years in Poland alone could result in the premature death of 87,000 people. In all EU countries, it could be 300,000.

In Poland, over 2 million people suffer from asthma – a disease caused or exacerbated by air pollution. It also contributes to the occurrence of many other respiratory and circulatory system diseases. Therefore, in their latest social campaign, ClientEarth featured people suffering from asthma and their families.

Polluted air also means tangible economic costs. According to the UNECE report, the European Economic Commission, cited by HEAL experts, health damages in Western and Central Europe caused by air pollution were estimated at about 980 billion euros in 2020. In individual countries, they account for 1 to 14% of GDP (with an average of 5%). In Poland, it’s 10% of GDP.

Now the European Parliament and EU Council will have to formally adopt the amended directive. It will take effect 20 days after being published in the Official Journal of the EU.

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