On 16 December 2015 the Council agreed on a general approach for the proposed directive to reduce national emissions of certain pollutants (the so called new NEC Directive). This agreement, reached during the Environment Council meeting, will serve as a basis for negotiations with the European Parliament on this file.
This legislative proposal reviews the annual caps per country for emissions of certain air pollutants, introducing new reduction commitments from 2020 to 2029 and from 2030 onwards.
The aim is to further address the health risks and environmental impacts posed by air pollution, as well as to align EU law with international commitments (following the revision of the Gothenburg Protocol in 2012).
The President of the Environment Council, Luxembourg Minister Carole Dieschbourg, commented: “Air pollution affects the health of all citizens. Urgent action is needed to improve the air quality in Europe. After difficult discussions, we achieved a balanced compromise today, which gets the support of many member states and is still ambitious. We should strive towards an outcome, which respects the ambition level of the directive and the spirit of the Paris Climate Agreement".
The current NEC Directive sets national limits for the emissions of four pollutants (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia). The Council's position for the new directive also contains caps for a new pollutant, fine particulate matter, but not for methane as proposed by the Commission. This pollutant was left out of the scope because of concerns about overlaps with future measures on climate and energy linked to emissions of greenhouse gases.
National reduction commitments
The national reduction commitments for each pollutant, from 2020 to 2029 are identical in both the Council's position and the revised Gothenburg protocol. However the reduction commitments from 2030 are new. They are based on the technical assessment of the reduction potential of each country, on the national estimates of the emissions in 2030 and on the goal of reducing the health impact of air pollution.
Regarding the 2025 intermediate emission levels proposed by the Commission, the Council introduced the possibility for member states to follow a non-linear trajectory in their reductions if this is more efficient.
The Council proposes some additional flexibility for member states. For instance, it introduces the possibility to average annual emissions with emissions of the preceding the year and those of the following. This can be applied when a member state is not in a position to fulfil its commitment one year, due to particularly cold or hot temperatures or to unforeseen economic variations.
The possibility to compensate for the non-compliance regarding one pollutant with an equivalent reduction of another for a limited time is also proposed for some cases.
Moreover, a member state could be deemed to comply with its obligations in cases of exceptional interruptions or losses of capacity in power or heating supply.
Timeline and next steps
The Commission presented its proposal as part of the "Air quality package" in December 2013. The Council held two policy debates in June 2014 and in June 2015. The European Parliament voted its position on the proposed directive in October 2015. The Council's general approach will serve as a basis for negotiations with the European Parliament, with a view to reach an agreement in the short term.