False ceilings: Only Belgium and Slovakia are on track to meet EU air pollution targets, report finds
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False ceilings: Only Belgium and Slovakia are on track to meet EU air pollution targets, report finds

All of the EU’s member states but two have failed to show how they will slash air pollution to comply with the emissions limits set out in the EU’s National Emission Ceilings Directive, a troubling new report finds. This puts in peril public health and Europe’s efforts to combat air pollution.

Released on 18 December 2020, the EEB report sheds light on progress by member states towards compliance with the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive, which aims to halve the impact of air pollution on people health by 2030.

Under the directive, EU governments are obliged to develop national air pollution control programmes which outline how the member state will reduce emissions of five major pollutants by 2020 and 2030.

The first programme was due by 1 April 2019. However, only eight countries submitted it by the deadline (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom), while some other governments submitted theirs more than a year later. Greece, Luxembourg and Romania have still not delivered their programme and Italy has only submitted a draft.

Airy promises

Moreover, our analysis shows that only two member states (Belgium and Slovakia) are on track to meet the targets for the decade between 2020 and 2029, while only Belgium is on course to satisfy its 2030 commitments.

“With our health and our environment at stake, it is a scandal that all but two member states have fallen so short of their commitments to reduce air pollution over this critical decade,” said the EEB’s Senior Policy Officer for Air and Noise Margherita Tolotto. “We call on the European Commission to start infringement procedures against all the member states which have failed to submit a credible Programme, and to ensure that all plans are fit for purpose.”

Tolotto also urged member states to get their houses in order:

“We ask national governments to tackle air pollution with the urgency it deserves, by putting in place the necessary national programmes and sticking to them. As many of them prepare their National Recovery and Resilience Plans, air quality must be a priority.”


Despite improvements in air quality, air pollution remains the biggest environmental health risk in Europe, causing around 400,000 premature deaths per year in the European Union.

When adopting the NEC Directive, member states agreed to reduce their emissions of five pollutants by 2020 and 2030. EU legislation requires them to prepare a national air pollution control programme outlining how they will meet their emissions reduction targets in all sectors, including domestic heating and agriculture.

When preparing these programmes, national governments also have the obligation to consult with and inform the public.

Our report explores what went wrong and provides tools and recommendations to rectify the dire situation, including the steps to be taken and measures to be included to prepare a good national programme.

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