Revised European Air Quality Directive Comes into Force

United Kingdom

EU Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (the “Directive”) came into force on 11 June 2008. This Directive merges and streamlines four previous directives on ambient air quality and a European Council decision into a single piece of legislation. This is in line with the European Commission’s initiative on better regulation.

The Directive includes (for the first time) targets for the reduction of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). This is because fine particulate matter (along with coarse particles, PM10) is a dangerous pollutant in respect of human health. The Directive requires Member States to reduce concentrations of PM2.5 in urban areas by an average of 20% by 2020 based on 2010 levels. Member States must bring exposure levels below 20 micrograms/m3 by 2015. In non-urban areas, Member States are required to set a PM2.5 limit of 25 micrograms/m3 by 2010 if possible - and at latest by 2015.

The Directive allows Members States greater flexibility in meeting existing air quality standards (which remain unchanged). Certainly in respect of PM10, Member States have struggled to meet the required reductions. Subject to certain conditions, the deadlines for meeting air quality targets can be extended by three years for PM10 and five years for nitrogen dioxide and benzene.

Member States must also ensure that information on air quality is available to the public and there are provisions to promote increased cooperation between Member States in order to reduce transboundary air pollution.

In a statement attached to the Directive, the European Commission states that it foresees new legislative proposals in 2008 to further reduce the Member States permitted national emissions of key pollutants, reduce emissions associated with the refuelling of cars at petrol stations and address the sulphur content of fuels, including marine fuels.

Member States are required to implement the Directive by 11 June 2010. They must also ensure that a sufficient number of urban measurement stations for PM2.5 are established by 1 January 2009 in order to meet the timetable laid out in the Directive.