Members' Research Service By / May 4, 2022

The EU’s zero pollution ambition: Moving towards a non-toxic environment

In addition to being one of the five main drivers of biodiversity loss, environmental pollution negatively affects people’s health and quality of life.

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Written by Vivienne Halleux.

In the European Union (EU), one in eight deaths is linked to environmental pollution. Pollution is also one of the five main causes of biodiversity loss, representing a significant cost for society. The EU has set the goal of achieving zero pollution for a non-toxic environment by 2050. This would mean reducing air, water and soil pollution to ‘levels no longer considered harmful to health and natural ecosystems and respecting the boundaries the planet can cope with’.

Achieving this long-term ambition will mean updating the comprehensive legal framework currently in place at EU level to address pollution in order to keep up with the latest scientific evidence. In 2022, the EU is expected to review its air quality standards to align more closely with the recently updated World Health Organization recommendations, and to look into pollutants affecting surface and groundwater. Additional areas that should be revised in parallel include key laws designed to tackle pollution at source, setting requirements for pollutant emissions from industry and vehicles, for urban wastewater treatment and sustainable use of pesticides. The key challenges in achieving the zero pollution goal remain to ensure policy coherence, compliance and enforcement. Other issues to monitor include liability for pollution and related costs, with recent assessments pointing to the need to be consistent and rigorous in implementing the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

Parliament has pushed for ambitious action to protect people’s health and the environment from pollution. It has argued that air quality legislation should also cover non-regulated pollutants with demonstrated adverse impacts, such as ultrafine particles, black carbon, mercury and ammonia. It has also called for decisive action on pollutants of emerging concern in water, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, microplastics, endocrine-disrupting chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Finally, it has urged the Commission to design a dedicated legal framework for soil protection, equivalent to that existing for water and air.

Recently, steps have been taken at global level to curb plastic pollution through legally binding means and to form a science-policy interface body on chemicals and waste.

Cleaner air

Read the complete briefing on ‘The EU’s zero pollution ambition: Moving towards a non-toxic environment‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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