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16.3.4.  EU's efforts to combat air pollution

    Industrial and household activities depend much on the burning of fossil fuels. Such burning causes the emission into the air of sulphur dioxide (SO2), due to the presence of certain quantities of sulphur in the fuel and of very fine particles of partly burned carbon and hydrocarbons which are highly pollutant for the air and highly toxic for human health. Since several of the most industrialised regions of the European Union are situated in frontier areas, sulphur dioxide and suspended particulate matter are carried from one European region to another according to wind direction. The European States therefore have to act in unison to prevent air pollution and at the same time to prevent the effects on the functioning of the common market resulting from barriers to trade in fuels and on the conditions of competition between industries using such fuels. In order to attain and maintain air quality standards, a whole gamut of measures is, of course, required.

    The Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe [Directive 2008/50, last amended by Directive 2015/1480] lays down measures aimed at the following:

    1.      defining and establishing objectives for ambient air quality designed to avoid, prevent or reduce harmful effects on human health and the environment as a whole;

    2.      assessing the ambient air quality in Member States on the basis of common methods and criteria;

    3.      obtaining information on ambient air quality in order to help combat air pollution and nuisance and to monitor long-term trends and improvements resulting from national and European measures;

    4.      ensuring that such information on ambient air quality is made available to the public;

    5.      maintaining air quality where it is good and improving it in other cases;

    6.      promoting increased cooperation between the Member States in reducing air pollution.

    A major source of air pollution addressed by the European Union is pollution by emissions from motor vehicles. Primary air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, unburnt hydrocarbons, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, benzenes and other toxic exhaust emissions which contribute to the formation of secondary pollutants such as ozone are emitted in significant amounts through the exhaust and evaporative fumes of motor vehicles thereby posing directly and indirectly a considerable risk to human health and the environment. Carbon monoxide resulting from the incomplete combustion of organic substances used in fuel was tackled first owing to its adverse consequences for human health and the environment. In the context of the completion of the internal market [see section 6.1] a comprehensive European type approval system for motor vehicles and their trailers was established in 1970 and was recast in 2007 [Directive 2007/46, last amended by Regulation 2015/758, see section 17.3.7]. EU Regulations set emission performance standards for new passenger cars [Regulation 443/2009, last amended by Regulation 2015/6] and for new light commercial vehicles [Regulation 510/2011, last amended by Regulation 253/2014] registered in the European Union, as part of the integrated approach to reducing CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles.

    Of particular interest are technical requirements against air pollution by motor vehicles established by two regulations: one concerning emissions from light passenger and commercial vehicles (Euro 5 and Euro 6) [Regulation 715/2007, last amended by Regulation 2017/1154]; and the other concerning heavy duty vehicles (Euro VI) [Regulation 595/2009, last amended by Regulation 136/2014]. These Regulations also lay down rules for in-service conformity of vehicles and engines, durability of pollution control devices, on-board diagnostic (OBD) systems, measurement of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions and accessibility of vehicle OBD and vehicle repair and maintenance information.

    A new Directive, repealing several earlier ones, establishes minimum specifications for petrol and diesel fuels for use in road and non-road mobile applications for health and environmental reasons [Directive 98/70, last amended by Directive 2015/1513]. This Directive also sets targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in line with the EU's efforts to curb climate change [see below]. Another directive calls on the Member States to ensure that public bodies and operators providing transport services under concession or permission from public bodies take into account lifetime energy and environmental impacts, including energy consumption and emissions of CO2 and of certain pollutants, when purchasing road transport vehicles with the objectives of promoting and stimulating the market for clean and energy-efficient vehicles and improving the contribution of the transport sector to the environment, climate and energy policies of the Union [Directive 2009/33].

    The framework for the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) in the field of road transport and for interfaces with other modes of transport aims, inter alia, to improve environmental performance, efficiency, including energy efficiency, by integrating telecommunications, electronics and information technologies with transport engineering in order to plan, design, operate, maintain and manage transport systems [Directive 2010/40 and Regulation 305/2013 and Decision 585/2014, see introduction to chapter 20].

    Other Directives lay down measures with a view to preventing and reducing pollution from: asbestos [Directive 87/217]; engines intended to power agricultural or forestry tractors [Directive 74/150, last amended by Directive 2014/43]; marine fuels [Directive 2005/33]; internal combustion engines installed in non-road mobile machinery [Directive 97/68, last amended by Directive 2012/46]; large combustion plants [Directive 2010/75]; the storage of petrol and its distribution to service stations [Directive 94/63]; and the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations [Directive 2010/75].

    The European information system is also important for the implementation of the Geneva Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution [Convention, Decision 81/462 and Protocol], particularly concerning the programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe (EMEP) [Protocol and Decision 86/277]. The European Community/Union is also a party to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants [Convention and Decision 2006/507].

    EU's efforts to curb climate change

    Whereas it is a pollutant in the lower atmosphere (troposphere), with adverse effects on vegetation, ecosystems and the environment as a whole, ozone is a natural element in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere), produced by photochemical reaction. The stratospheric ozone layer is vital to mankind, as it filters a large proportion of the sun's ultraviolet rays. A reduction in that layer could lead to a large increase in the number of skin cancers or considerable damage to agriculture on the planet. Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and of chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons contribute to the "greenhouse effect" and hence to global warming. Effective combating of this phenomenon requires concerted action at international level. Therefore, the European Union is signatory of the Vienna Convention for the protection of the ozone layer and the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer, the objective of which is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the air at a level avoiding dangerous climate change [Decision 88/540]. Particular reference should be made to the Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and therefore on the control of greenhouse gas emissions, signed at Montreal in 1987 and amended several times [OJ L 33/94 and OJ L 72/2002]. An EC regulation is intended to implement the commitment agreed by the parties to the Montreal Protocol, and provides for measures designed to help speed up the process of regeneration of the ozone layer [Regulation 1005/2009, last amended by Regulation 2017/605].

    During the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the so-called "Earth Summit", held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14, 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed by the European Community and its Member States. The European Community adhered to the Convention in 1994 [Decision 94/69]. The ultimate objective of the UNFCCC and of its Kyoto Protocol, which sets mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries, is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The Convention enjoys near universal membership, with 192 countries having ratified it. The European Community accepted the commitments of the Kyoto Protocol [Decision 2002/358  and Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol] and all its Member States have ratified it. In contrast, although the United States have signed both the Convention and the Protocol, the Bush administration did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, so as not to accept a binding commitment to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions.

    The Kyoto Protocol sets legally binding targets for industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions relative to the base year (1990) by 2008-2012, calculated as an average of these years. These 5 years are known as the first commitment period. The Kyoto Protocol suggests various means of attaining these objectives: stepping up or introducing national policies to reduce emissions (greater energy efficiency, promotion of sustainable forms of agriculture, development of renewable energy sources, etc.), as well as cooperation mechanisms, namely emission permits and joint implementation. Whereas, the Parties to Annex I to the Framework Convention (industrialised countries) have undertaken to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5% below 1990 levels during the period 2008 to 2012, the European Union, although it is responsible for only 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, has committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 8% during the first commitment period.

    The environmentally sustainable development strategy is now incorporated in the sixth Community environment action programme [Decision 1600/2002, see section 16.2], whose first priority consists in tackling climate change by reducing greenhouse gases according to the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol. The Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises (COSME) (2014 -2020) helps enterprises to adapt to a low-emission, climate-resilient, resource- and energy-efficient economy [Regulation 1287/2013, see section 17.1.3]. Integrating environmental issues and sustainable development into the definition and implementation of policies is a central factor in fulfilling the European Union's commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. The strategies for integrating the environmental dimension into the agriculture, transport and energy sectors have been agreed.

    In order to honour EU Kyoto commitments, a directive set up national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants, taking the years 2010 and 2020 as benchmarks [Directive 2001/81]. The European Union has established a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within its territory ("Community scheme"), one of the flexible mechanisms recommended in the Kyoto protocol, according to which each Member State must draw up a national plan indicating the allowances (entitlements to emit greenhouse gases) it intends to allocate to each polluting installation [Directive 2003/87, last amended by Regulation 2017/294]. The scheme aims both to achieve a pre-determined emission reduction and to decrease the resulting costs. It is based on granting authorised emissions allowances, purchasing emissions permits from companies which have not used up their full allowance and imposing fines in the event of misuse of this scheme. With effect from 1 January 2008, each such installation must be in possession of an appropriate permit issued by the competent authorities for a five-year period. A decision set up a mechanism for implementing the Kyoto Protocol by monitoring European greenhouse gas emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases (i.e. forests, which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) [Regulation 525/2013, last amended by Regulation 662/2014].

    A decision lays down the minimum contribution of Member States to meeting the greenhouse gas emission reduction commitment of the European Union for the period from 2013 to 2020 for greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, rules on making these contributions and for the evaluation thereof and provisions for assessing and implementing a stricter European reduction commitment exceeding 20%, to be applied upon the approval by the EU of an appropriate international agreement on climate change [Decision 406/2009]. A regulatory framework was set up for CO2 capture and geological storage (CCS), consisting of the capture of carbon dioxide from industrial installations, its transport to a storage site and its injection into a suitable underground geological formation for the purposes of permanent storage [Directive 2009/31].

    The control of European energy consumption and the increased use of energy from renewable sources, together with energy savings and increased energy efficiency, constitute important parts of the package of measures needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and comply with the Kyoto Protocol and with further European and international greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments beyond 2012. One of the targets of the ''Europe 2020'' strategy [see section 7.3] is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% compared to 1990 levels (or by 30% if there is international agreement), increase the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption to 20%, and achieve a 20% increase in energy efficiency (the "20/20/20" climate/energy package).

    Therefore Directive 2009/28 [last amended by Directive 2015/1513] establishes a common framework for the promotion of energy from renewable sources. It sets mandatory national targets for the overall share of energy from renewable sources in gross final consumption of energy and for the share of energy from renewable sources in transport. Such mandatory national overall targets are consistent with a target of at least a 20% share of energy from renewable sources in the EU’s gross final consumption of energy in 2020. Each Member State must ensure that the share of energy from renewable sources in all forms of transport in 2020 is at least 10% of the final consumption of energy in transport in that Member State. The directive establishes sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids. It lays down rules relating to statistical transfers between Member States, joint projects between Member States and with third countries, guarantees of origin, administrative procedures, information and training, and access to the electricity grid for energy from renewable sources.

    Directive 2009/72 concerning common rules for the internal market in electricity affirms that Member States shall ensure that electricity undertakings are operated with a view to achieving a competitive, secure and environmentally sustainable market in electricity [Directive 2009/72, see section 19.2.1]. Directive 2006/32 on energy end-use efficiency and energy services aims to enhance the cost-effective improvement of energy end-use efficiency in the Member States by providing the necessary indicative targets as well as mechanisms, incentives and institutional, financial and legal frameworks to remove existing market barriers and imperfections that impede the efficient end use of energy [see section 19.3.1].

    The Cancun Agreements of December 2010 represent an important further step on the road to building a comprehensive and legally binding framework for global climate action for the period after 2012. They strengthen the international climate regime, including through new institutions and funds. The key points of the agreements concluded in Cancún (Mexico) are based on the results achieved by the EU countries in Copenhagen in 2009 and include:

    acknowledgement for the first time in a UN document that global warming must be kept below 2°C compared to the pre-industrial temperature, and establishment of a process to define a date for global emissions to peak and a global emissions reduction goal for 2050 anchored in the UN process and a process set out to help clarify and  track them more effectively;

    confirmation of the goal that developed countries will mobilise US$ 100 billion in climate funding for developing countries annually by 2020, and establishment of a Green Climate Fund through which much of the funding will be channelled;

    launch of a "REDD+" mechanism enabling action to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries;

    agreement to consider setting up new carbon market mechanisms going beyond a project-based approach;

    establishment of a clear process for reviewing the adequacy of the goal of keeping global warming below 2°C, including consideration of strengthening the goal to 1.5°C, to be concluded in 2015.

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