The European Commission has unveiled plans to reduce pollution to levels that are no longer harmful to human health and natural ecosystems by 2050.
The Zero Pollution Action Plan sets out key 2030 targets to reduce pollution at source, namely improving air quality to reduce the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution by 55% and improving water quality by reducing waste and plastic litter at sea by 50% and microplastics released into the environment by 30%.
In addition, it aims to improve soil quality by reducing nutrient losses and chemical pesticides’ use by 50%, reducing the EU ecosystems where air pollution threatens biodiversity by 25%, reducing the share of people chronically disturbed by transport noise by 30% and significantly reducing waste generation and residual municipal waste by 50%.
The Plan also outlines a number of flagship initiatives and actions, including aligning air quality standards more closely to the latest recommendations of the World Health Organisation, reviewing the standards for water quality as well as the majority of EU waste laws to adapt them to the clean and circular economy principles.
It also seeks to foster zero pollution from production and consumption and reduce the EU’s external pollution footprint by restricting the exports of products and wastes that have harmful, toxic impacts in third countries.
The actions in the Plan is expected to save the economy important costs of pollution, such as for healthcare, lost workdays or damages to buildings and crop losses.
The Commission believes the costs of inaction “hugely outweigh” the costs of action – for example, air pollution costs, in terms of health and economic activities, an estimated €330 billion (3284bn) to €940 billion (£809bn) per year in the EU, whereas all the measures to improve air quality in the EU taken so far have an estimated combined cost of €70 billion (£60bn) to €80 billion (£69bn) per year.
Pollution is the largest environmental cause of multiple mental and physical diseases and of premature deaths, especially among children, people with certain medical conditions and the elderly.
People who live in more deprived areas often live close to contaminated sites or in areas where there is a very high flow of traffic.
The Commission believes a toxic-free environment is also crucial to protect the EU’s biodiversity and ecosystems, as pollution is one of the main reasons for the loss of biodiversity and reduces the ability of ecosystems to provide services such as carbon sequestration and air and water decontamination.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries said: “Environmental pollution negatively affects our health, especially the most vulnerable and socially deprived groups and is also one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. The case for the EU to lead the global fight against pollution is today stronger than ever.
“With the Zero Pollution Action Plan, we will create a healthy living environment for Europeans, contribute to a resilient recovery and boost transition to a clean, circular and climate neutral economy.”