By John Vidal, January 4, 2014
London and other European cities which are defying European law by
illegally polluting the air will have to dramatically reduce their
vehicle emissions by 2020, the European commission has said.
EC has warned cities including London to cut car emissions to clean the air or face heavy penalties.
In a signal that Europe is running out of patience with countries
that consistently fail to meet air pollution targets, environment
commissioner Janez Potočnik served notice that the EC would start fining
countries from 2020.
"Poor air quality
is the number one environmental cause of premature death in the EU with a
toll that outstrips road traffic accidents. It is an 'invisible killer'
and it prevents many people from living a fully active life," he said.
Potočnik said air pollution already costs Europe $242 – 1,285 billion
(£277-789 billion) a year in extra health costs and prematurely killed
over 100,000 people a year.
Large cities like
London have claimed to be unable to meet NO2 targets set in 1999 until
2025 at the earliest. They have argued for extensions but the new
initiative is expected to force them to take traffic off the road using
charges, and stricter low emission zones.
Potočnik proposed a package of measures aimed to avoid 58,000
premature deaths a year by 2030. The benefits, he claimed, would be
about $55 billion a year, or more than 12 times the costs of pollution
abatement needed, estimated to reach $4.65 billion a year in 2030.
The proposals, which will have to be studied by countries, included
setting stricter emission ceilings by 2030 for six major pollutants,
including particulate matter (PM) or the fine dust emitted by vehicles
and shipping, sulphur dioxide which contributes to acid rain and soil
acidification, and nitrogen oxides emitted by road vehicles.
He also plans to reduce pollution from large buildings, tighten up existing targets and fund cities to reduce pollution.
Poor air quality is the number one environmental cause
of premature death in the EU with a toll that outstrips road traffic
But environment groups said they were disappointed that Europe was
not insisting on earlier targets. "We're encouraged that they recognize
the scale of the problem, but disappointed they've bowed to pressure
from industry and countries like the UK to put off taking action until
2030," said Alan Andrews, a lawyer with ClientEarth.
"The government, London mayor and local councils must take bold
action to tackle air pollution – building new roads and expanding
airports will simply add to the problem. The UK has been allowed to drag
its heels on delivering clean air for far too long," said Jenny Bates,
air pollution campaigner with Friends of the Earth.