This week, the European Commission published its first Zero Pollution Monitoring and Outlook report setting pathways to cleaner air, water and soil. The Commission report, together with the European Environment Agency’s monitoring assessment, shows that EU policies have contributed to reducing air pollution as well as pollution from pesticides. However, in other areas such as harmful noise, nutrient pollution or municipal waste generation, problems persist. The results show that overall much stronger action is necessary if the EU is to achieve 2030 zero pollution targets, by adopting new anti-pollution laws and better implementing existing ones.
Zero pollution: 2030 targets within reach but need stronger action
The progress towards the six ‘zero pollution’ targets is mixed. Pollution is decreasing from pesticides, antimicrobials and marine litter. Not much progress has been made for pollution from noise, nutrients and waste. On the other hand, the overall high rates of compliance with the EU drinking and bathing water pollution standards (>99% and >93% respectively) are encouraging. For 2030, we can achieve most of the targets if additional efforts are made.
However, current pollution levels are still far too high: over 10% of premature deaths in the EU each year are still related to environmental pollution. This is mainly due to air pollution, but also to noise pollution and exposure to chemicals, which is likely to be underestimated. The pollution similarly damages biodiversity. There are significant differences between Member States, with premature deaths levels around 5-6% in the North and 12-14% in the South and East of Europe.
The Commission has by now delivered or advanced on all 33 of the announced actions in the Zero Pollution Action Plan of 2021. In order for them to have an impact, the Commission report calls for the swift agreement and adoption of the legislative proposals to reduce harmful pollution, and the improved implementation of the existing ones at local, national and cross-border level. Notably, it finds that if the EU implements all relevant measures proposed by the Commission, the number of premature deaths due to air pollution would fall by up to 66% in 2030 compared to 2005, with benefits of clean air measures outweighing costs and leading to overall GDP gains. The report also points to the importance of promoting global initiatives and supporting third countries in their efforts towards reducing pollution.
Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans said:
“Once again the evidence presented today shows us that the benefits of acting for clean air, water and soil are far greater than the investment. This is also what citizens want, as more than 80% are worried about the health and environmental problems caused by pollution”.
Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said:
“Today we are presenting compelling evidence about the results of ambitious action to reduce pollution. The reports show that the EU’s zero pollution ambition is realistic and possible, but only if we speed up adoption of legislative proposals linked to pollution, and step up implementation of the existing EU pollution laws. I also hope that today’s reports will help convince our global partners to agree on equally ambitious targets in the context of the upcoming COP15 negotiations on biodiversity”.
Executive Director of the European Environment Agency Hans Bruyninckx added:
The EEA’s first zero pollution monitoring report shows that Europe is making progress in reducing and preventing pollution in key areas, such as air, bathing water and drinking water, and is using less hazardous pesticides. But, to deliver on our 2050 vision, we need progress in reducing excess nutrients in the environment and the health impacts of noise and chemicals, and identifying emerging issues earlier.