The European Union bloc auditors have made it clear that most governments in the region are ignoring the air quality limits notwithstanding that it is far lower than the recommended standard set by the World Health Organizations – and as much as one thousand European lives are lost prematurely every day owing to this menace. This death toll, according to a watchdog, is over ten times the lives lost to road accidents.

According to a report from the auditors of the bloc, 23 of the 28 nations in the European Union are falling short of particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants emission limits. Supreme Audit Office (NIK) in a separate report mentioned that air pollution is worst in Poland because people burn rubbish and low-quality coal to heat their homes. The southern cities in Poland experience fogs that are denser than the scenario in Beijing and New Delhi (two cities with some of the worst air pollution levels in the world).

This was supported by a statement released by The European Court of Auditors (ECA), the body that scrutinizes how the budget of the bloc is spent. According to ECA, the effect of pollution on health countries in Eastern Europe with a special emphasis on Bulgaria is worse than in India and China. Presenting the report, a member of the Luxembourg-based ECA, Janusz Wojciechowski said,

“Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to health in the European Union”


The report shows that the majority of the premature 400,000 annual deaths in the region are due to high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, and the Czech Republic suffer the most.

air pollution
Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to health in the European Union

Past Efforts By The European Union To Cut Down Pollution

The European Union has been making effort to reduce pollution. Although not enough, their past efforts have contributed to the reduction of emission in the bloc. The European Commission has been tough on defaulters, instituting legal actions against them.

In May, the European Commission dragged Britain, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Romania to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the bloc’s highest court, for defaulting in the EU air quality standards. The countries were given until January 2018 to increase their actions to mitigate environmental pollution but according to Karmenu Vella, EU Environment Commissioner failed to do enough.

The EU is also proposing that an emission standard is set for all trucks moving within the EU. The European Parliament is also suggesting that the air pollution standard which was set 20 years ago should be updated while also calling for improved public awareness of the severity of the problem.

Using the projected 2019 air pollution level as a benchmark, the European Commission is also proposing a fifteen percent cut by 2025 and a minimum of thirty percent air pollution reduction by 2030.

The Consequences Of Air Pollution In The European Union

The consequence of air pollution to the bloc is severe. According to estimates by the EU, the health cost of air pollution on the bloc per annum is about €20 billion (approx. $24.7 billion). This ranges from respiratory illnesses to increased government health care expenses.

According to a 2012 report from the European Environment Agency, the cost of the emission produced by 14,000 industrial facilities within Europe cost the region up to €189 billion. This figure is bound to rise if nothing is done to cut down air pollution. A study carried out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development projected that the cost of annual welfare globally will rise to $18 to $25 trillion by 2060.

Not All EU Countries See Air Pollution As A Threat

In as much as the WHO and several EU agencies have continued to talk about the dangers of air pollution to the bloc, some government officials within the bloc think it’s just a fuss. A prominent example in this scenario is the Polish energy minister. Several times the minister has downplayed the smog issue in the country refuting the relationship between pollution and premature death.

Nevertheless, Poland has in recent times taken actions to improve the quality of air. However, environmentalists have continued to question the sincerity of their solutions citing many loopholes. Environmentalists are also accusing the energy and environmental ministry of failing to take the right steps to nip the menace in the bud.

air pollution as a threat
Not all EU countries see air pollution as a threat

The Data On Air Pollution May Be Worse

According to ECA is not hiding the reality that the data on air pollution may be worse than the estimated figures because it is possible that the monitoring may have missed crucial points.

With the light beamed on top nations in the bloc including the ones already dragged to court, it is possible that many of the smaller nations in the bloc are guilty of worse atrocities regarding air pollution. ECA admitted this when the organization stated unequivocally that member states have continued to frequently breach air quality limits.

Future Plans By The EU For Cleaner Air

When the first European Union climate policy was instituted about a decade ago, auto manufacturers lobbied for a soft landing. As EU environment ministers converge on October 9 to discuss new reduction targets for 2025 and 2030, it is unlikely that they will listen to such pleas from auto manufacturers.

A record fifteen million cars are sold in the EU each year which accounts for about one-tenth of the bloc’s CO2 emission. The environmental ministers will be looking at ways to encourage the production of cleaner vehicles. The current cap CO2 emission cap for vehicles is 130 g/km. This target was set in 2015; however, the projected vehicle emission target for 2021 is 95 g/km.

Earlier in October 2018, the European Parliament ignored the warnings from the affected industry and voted for a twenty percent cut in CO2 emission by 2025 and forty percent by 2030. For this draft legislation to see the light of day, both the EU Parliament and the EU governments will need to agree on it. Any differences that may arise will need to be sorted through negotiation.