An unprecedented opportunity to enhance health in Europe and beyond
The European Commission has launched in twenty nineteen (2019) the European Green deal. This is a very ambitious roadmap with the overarching aim of reducing CO2 to make Europe climate neutral by 2050. This requires bold action at all levels–international, national, local– and across all sectors such as energy, transport, industry, agriculture, and residential.
Subsequently, the Commission published a zero pollution action plan. For the first time – pollution prevention, health arguments and reducing health inequalities are front and center of this extensive plan. There is a better appreciation that pollution does not stop at borders.
The health arguments for climate mitigation and adaptation are compelling, with important near-term health benefits. COP26 held in Glasgow in 2021 was just the beginning of massive engagement by the health community, and the ISEE Europe chapter is actively working towards a wider engagement.
Two major evaluations that will shape air quality policies in Europe and beyond in the near future: the revision of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives and the new WHO Air Quality guidelines.
A revision of the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives are under development intending to provide better protection to the European population from adverse effects of air pollution.
The expectation is that the European Commission will propose an ambitious new directive, and that they will propose to revise air quality standards so that they align more closely with the new WHO Guidelines. A draft proposal by the Commission is expected in the second half of 2022. After the draft is published, there will be time for intense negotiations with the Council and the members states, as well as the Parliament, which can easily take a few years. The ultimate goal is to finalize the Directive before the next election cycle in Brussels – mid 2024. In close collaboration with the ISEE Policy committee, ERS and many others, the ISEE Europe Chapter continues to inform the revisions of the EU Air Quality Directive.
After years of intensive research and deliberations with experts across the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its 2005 Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQG) in September 2021. The new air quality guidelines (WHO AQG) are ambitious and reflect the large impact that air pollution has on global health. They recommend aiming for annual mean concentrations of PM2.5 not exceeding 5 µg/m3 and NO2 not exceeding 10 µg/m3 , and the peak season mean 8-hr ozone concentration not exceeding 60 µg/m3. For reference, the corresponding 2005 WHO guideline values for PM2.5 and NO2 were, respectively, 10 µg/m3 and 40 µg/m3 with no recommendation issued for long-term ozone concentrations. While the guidelines are not legally binding, they will influence air quality policy across the globe for many years to come.
There is no safe air pollution level and every reduction in air pollution brings health benefits is a powerful message that ISEE Europe communicates widely. Recently, together with ISEE and ERS, we have published a joint statement along those lines that was endorsed by more than 100 societies and patient organizations including the cardiology societies and the cancer societies.