On June 29th, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) hosted an informative event focused on the urgent need for clean transport solutions in recognition that there is no safe level of air pollution. The discussions were centred on the various opportunities within key EU air quality policies, including the Euro 7 Emissions Standard, the Ambient Air Quality Directive, and the Heavy-Duty Vehicle CO2 Emissions Standard, serving as the foundations to protect health in Europe.
Air pollution is the most significant environmental health threat that Europeans face, and currently the bulk of urban populations are exposed to levels above the WHO 2021 Air Quality Guidelines. The transport system is not only a major cause of air pollutants, but also contributes to noise pollution and planetary health degradation, all of which have extensive related health risks impacting almost every system in the body.
Everyone is vulnerable to the risks of air pollution, but certain groups are more susceptible to its effects. The EEA has stated that over 1,200 childhood deaths occur every year due to air pollution. Air pollutants have also been positively associated with higher hospital admissions, hospital costs and length of hospital stays. The total health costs of air pollution, as modelled by the European Commission, is set between EUR 231 and 800 billion per year.
MEP Ciarán Cuffe delivered a powerful message, stating, that;
“Europe has made progress on legislation that should reduce emissions over the coming decades, but it looks like there is a consorted effort to kill off crucial legislation for protecting human health and tackling the largest environmental health risk in Europe: air pollution.”
The principal argument put forward by the car industry against the adoption of ambitious legislatory proposals is the economic cost it would incur. However, the following speakers highlighted both the economic and technical feasibility of implementing ambitious regulations. Notably, it was observed that although there has been a decline in car sales, Europe’s top five car manufacturers have capitalised on their position by increasing vehicle prices and shifting sales towards more expensive models, resulting in doubled profits since 2019. The financial viability of implementing the Euro 7 regulation throughout its lifetime is clear.
The event continued by exploring opportunities for sustainable modes of mobility, including low-emission zones and zero-emission zones as valuable tools when formulating both local and EU-wide policies. Additionally, there was a focus on the significance of fostering behavioural changes, enhancing the quality and accessibility of public transport, and developing infrastructure that promote active mobility.
The EU air quality policies proposed have the potential to offer substantial co-benefits, including climate mitigation, health equity, and biodiversity conservation. Given the preventable and unacceptable health impacts associated with transport-related pollution, a strong health focus within these policies is necessary to yield significant social and health returns.
- Dr Cale Lawlor, European Public Health Alliance (EPHA)
- Minister Ciaran Cuffe, MEP
- Mr Kestutis Kupsys, European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
- Ms Anna Krajinska, Transport and Environment
- Dr Ben Marner, Air Quality Consultants Ltd
- Mr Thomas Lymes, EuroCities
- Prof Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Barcelona Institute of Global Health