By / May 6, 2014

Air quality and climate change EU policies

According to Air and Climate Unit of IES-JRC “air pollution and climate change are connected problems: the sources of air…

© fablok / Fotolia

According to Air and Climate Unit of IES-JRC “air pollution and climate change are connected problems: the sources of air pollutants and climate-warming greenhouse gases are often the same. Air pollution can influence climate change, and climate change can influence the levels of air pollution. Action taken to improve air quality will also yield important short-term benefits for climate change. There is evidence that a reduction of certain air pollutants, which contribute to short-term atmospheric warming, could help to keep the global temperature increase within 2ºC.”

Air quality and climate change EU policies
© fablok / Fotolia

A recent paper of the United States Environmental Protection Agency summarises the climate impacts of air pollution as well as the air quality impacts of climate change. The 2013 report of the European Environment Agency, Air quality in Europe, emphasises also that “air quality and climate change can be cost‑effectively tackled together by using an integrated approach when defining policies and measures”. However, the EU policies for controlling air-polluting substances and for mitigating climate change remain separate.

EU climate action policy is closely linked to international actions to mitigate climate change by reducing GHG emissions. The EU has been a driving force in the development of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol and is a major actor in the current international negotiations on climate change (overview).

At the same time, for already 40 years the EU has put in place policy measures and legislation regarding air quality and atmospheric pollutants (brochure, 2013).

Policies that address air pollution may affect climate change and vice versa. It has been argued that phasing out ozone-destroying substances under the Montreal protocol has had a bigger effect on climate change mitigation than reductions of greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto protocol. However, some measures to mitigate climate change have a negative impact on air quality, as for example the burning of biomass which leads to increased emissions of particulate matter. Conversely, measures to improve air quality can reinforce climate change, notably measures that reduce the atmospheric concentration of certain aerosols (ex. SO2).

Regarding the effect of different substances on global warming (radiative forcing), see the IPCC Working Group I contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5): Climate change 2013: the physical science basis.


A number of key points can be extracted from the scientific publications referenced below:
– Some substances have an influence on both air pollution and climate change.
– CO2 which is the main contributor to climate change, does not directly contribute to air pollution.
– Some air pollutants are also greenhouse gases that contribute to warming on a global or local scale.
– Other pollutants reduce global warming by reflecting solar radiation. Slow warming between the 1940s to the 1980s may thus be due to high emissions of such pollutants.
– Some substances have indirect effects by enabling chemical reactions in the atmosphere, by changing the reflectivity of surfaces (albedo), or by interacting with cloud formation
– Climate change may have impacts on air pollution, either directly or indirectly. For example, temperatures and precipitation influence chemical reactions, wildfires related to changed climate cause air pollution, and melting permafrost releases methane.


Air quality and climate, in: Research findings in support of the EU Air Quality review, edited by Michela Maione and Sandro Fuzzi, European Commission, 2013, pp. 37-44
This report aims to provide with information on key scientific findings relevant for the revision of EU Air Quality legislation and to identify limitations to knowledge and emerging issues. Chapter 5 explains the complex interactions between air quality and climate, pointing out the short-lived climate forcing components, such as light absorbing particles, scattering particles (sulphate, OC), ozone and methane, which affect both air quality and climate. It concludes that “policies measures for the mitigation of air pollution and climate change overlap, and integrated assessments are required to assess their interlinkages.”

Air quality and climate: synergies and trade-offs, Erika von Schneidemesser and Paul S. Monks, in: Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, May 2013, 11 p.
This article reviews the so-called “short-lived climate forcers” as well as the concept of “climate penalty” regarding the air quality. It argues that coordinated policy action is needed in order to avoid trade-offs and optimise benefits for climate and air quality.

Air pollution and climate change, Science for environment policy, November 2010, 12 p.
This special issue contains summaries of scientific articles.

Climate and air quality impacts of combined climate change and air pollution policy scenarios, JRC, October 2010, 75 p.
This report “describes the coupling of the global partial equilibrium energy model POLES (Prospective Outlook on Long-term Energy Systems) with the global emissions database EDGAR (Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research). Scenarios for greenhouse gases and air pollutants are developed, based on the POLES output, and on assumptions on further air pollution emission reductions for the period 2000-2050.”

Air pollution policies in Europe: efficiency gains from integrating climate effects with damage costs to health and crops, Tollefsen, P., Rypdal, K., Torvanger, A., Rive, N., in: Environmental Science and Policy, Volume 12 (7), November 2009, abstract and summary in Science for environment policy, 1 p.
This study investigates efficiency gains achieved by integrating climate impacts of air pollutants into air quality strategies for the EU region.

New directions: Climate change and air pollution abatement: A bumpy road, F. Raes and J. H. Seinfeld, in: Atmospheric Environment, Volume 43 (32), October 2009, 2 p.
This article analyses the role of air pollutants in climate change and argues that the implementation of policies that reduce air pollution could speed up warming.

Air pollution, greenhouse gases and climate change: Global and regional perspectives, V. Ramanathan, Y. Feng, in: Atmospheric Environment, Volume 43 (1), January 2009
This study provides an overview on the state of knowledge on the role of air pollution in climate change and analyses emerging issues such as global dimming, the role of air pollution in masking global warming, and its influence on the regional climate changes.

Air quality and climate change: A UK perspective, DEFRA, 2007; see also the summary
This report investigates linkages between the two types of pollution: air pollution and pollution causing climate change in order to understand if there are any advantages in bringing the two types of policy together.

Case studies

Projected effects of climate and development on California wildfire emissions through 2100, Matthew D. Hurteau [et al.], in: Environmental Science & Technology, 2014, abstract and comment
This article considers that increases in wildfire emissions due to climate change can affect the air quality.

The impact of international shipping on European air quality and climate forcing, EEA, March 2013, 88 p.
This technical report provides with information on monitoring and modelling of shipping activity and emissions in the EU and their impact on air quality and climate change.
See also the presentation of John van Aardenne

Future air quality in Europe: a multi-model assessment of projected exposure to ozone, A. Colette [et al.], in: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 2012, 18 p.
This paper addresses uncertainties in three aspects of air quality risk assessments: emission projections, transport and transformation, and exposure downscaling. It concludes that air pollution mitigation measures are leading factors for improvement of the air quality, but an additional co-benefit of at least 40% is brought about by the climate policy.

Development of a better understanding of the scale of co-benefits associated with transport sector GHG reduction policies, C. Brannigan [et al.], AEA, February 2012, 165 p.
The aim of this project study is to better understand the air quality, energy security, environmental noise, and health co-benefits associated with future GHG reduction policies in the transport sector.

Future climate change impacts on summer surface ozone from regional climate-air quality simulations over Europe, E. Katragkou [et al.], in: Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres (1984–2012), Volume 116 (D22), November 2011, abstract and presentation on EGI website
Using grid computing, scientists have been simulated the effect of climate change on ozone concentrations in Europe over the next 100 years. The results suggest that climate change can increase significantly the ground level ozone over Europe at the end of the century.

Integrated assessment of black carbon and tropospheric ozone: Summary for decision makers, UNEP, 2011, 36 p. ; see also the summary by JRC
This assessment identifies the climate co-benefits of air-quality measures that address the short lived climate forcers as black carbon and tropospheric ozone and which have been successfully implemented on local and regional level.

Web services for incorporation of air quality and climate change in long-term urban planning for Europe, Magnuz Engardt, Christer Johansson, Lars Gidhagen, in: Environmental software systems: Frameworks of eEnvironment, Proceedings of the 9th IFIP WG 5.11 International Symposium, ISESS 2011, Brno, Czech Republic, June 27-29, 2011, 18 p.
This is a presentation of the SUDPLAN Scenario Management System which allows downscaling of air quality for whatever European city. The SUDPLAN approach is to connect urban models with European scale models simulating future air quality, taking into account climate and emissions changes. The SUDPLAN project (Sustainable Urban Development Planner for Climate Change Adaptation) aims at developing a web-based planning, prediction and training tool to support decisions in long term urban planning.

Policy papers

Co-benefits of climate and air pollution regulations, A. Colette [et al.], PBL, 2012, 76 p.
This report, written for the European Environment Agency, examines the effects of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on air quality. Analysing several existing scenarios, it concludes that climate policy leads, in general, to a decrease in air pollution in Europe.

Air pollution: action in a changing climate, DEFRA, March 2010, 24 p.
This policy paper argues that “air quality/climate change co-benefits can be realised through actions such as promoting low-carbon vehicles and renewable sources of energy that do not involve combustion. At the same time, actions that tackle climate change but damage air quality must be avoided. Action will be needed at international, EU, national, regional and local levels to make sure air quality and climate change policies are integrated to maximise the co-benefits of tackling both air pollution and climate change together and ensure ambitious but realistic air quality targets are set for the future.”
See also Air Quality and Climate Change: Integrating policy within local authorities, 2011

Main EU legislation

Air quality

Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe
This Directive merges most of existing legislation (Daughter Directives) into a single directive. It states new air quality objectives for PM2.5 (fine particles) including the limit value and exposure related objectives and includes the possibility for time extensions of three years (PM10) or up to five years (NO2, benzene) for complying with PM limit values, based on conditions and the assessment by the European Commission.

Directive 2004/107/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 December 2004 relating to arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air
This was the Fourth Daughter Directive. It is not repealed because there was no change to existing air quality objectives.
See also: Commission Implementing Decision of 12 December 2011 laying down rules for Directives 2004/107/EC and 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the reciprocal exchange of information and reporting on ambient air quality

Directive 2001/81/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (NEC) established national emission ceilings for acidification and eutrophication.
This Directive will be repealed by the Commission’s proposal COM(2013)0920 for new Directive on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants, notably emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) and ammonia (NH3).

At international level, policies for controlling conventional air pollutants are developed under the UN Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, (CLRTAP), leading e.g. to the Gothenburg Protocol.

Climate change

Greenhouse gases

The greenhouse gas most commonly produced by human activities is carbon dioxide (CO2). It is responsible for some 63% of man-made global warming. One of the main sources of CO2 in the atmosphere is the combustion of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas. In addition to CO2, six other gases are controlled by the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty which sets limitations on greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries: methane, nitrous oxide and four fluorinated gases. But the Kyoto Protocol only mentions long-term greenhouse gases and not the conventional pollutants like ozone and aerosols that also have an impact on regional and global climate.
See also: Fluorinated greenhouse gases, EPRS briefing, Gregor Erbach, March 2014, 1 p.


EU law on climate change and protection of the ozone layer
– EU ETS covers GHG emissions from some sectors
– Effort Sharing Decision covers non-ETS GHG emissions from transport (except aviation), buildings, agriculture (excluding forestry) and waste sectors: overview on DG Climate action webpage
Decision No 406/2009/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on the effort of Member States to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Community’s greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments up to 2020
National limits on non-ETS emissions for 2013-2020: overview
Adjustment of national limits on non-ETS emissions for 2013-2020: overview

Legislation in preparation on air quality

The Clean Air Policy Package was adopted by the Commission on 18 December 2013

It includes:
– Proposal for a Directive on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants and amending Directive 2003/35/EC, COM/2013/0920
– Proposal for a Directive on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from medium combustion plants, COM/2013/0919
– A Clean Air Programme for Europe, COM/2013/0918; See also Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution (2005)
– Proposal for a Council Decision on the acceptance of the Amendment to the 1999 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone, COM/2013/0917
– See also SEC(2011)342 and other supporting documents

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