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AIR QUALITY HEADLINE INDICATOR - MEACHER CALLS FOR RENEWED EUROPEAN ACTION

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The last two years have been the best on record for levels of air pollution in urban areas, environment minister Mi...
The last two years have been the best on record for levels of air pollution in urban areas, environment minister Michael Meacher said today. But UK air quality would have been even better with effective concerted action in Europe.

Commenting on the publication today of the air quality headline indicator for 1999, Michael Meacher called for renewed action in Europe to cut emissions that contribute to high air pollution incidents in this country. The National Emission Ceilings Directive and the Ozone Directive are currently being negotiated. The United

Kingdom would like other member states to match its own commitments.

The indicator reports that last year, urban air pollution was recorded as 'moderate' or higher on 30 days, compared with 59 in 1993. Pollution caused by UK activities fell to its lowest ever recorded levels, but this success was offset by increased ozone, much of which comes from mainland Europe.

The UK previously took the initiative in Europe by successfully negotiating the first Air Quality Daughter Directive, which set limit values for four pollutants, and a Directive to reduce Volatile Organic Compounds, during its presidency in 1998. The government published this year its new Air Quality Strategy which strengthened

the objectives for many of the pollutants.

Michael Meacher said: 'The UK is committed to improving air quality. We intend to cut our own emissions of pollutants that cause transboundary pollution. But this is a shared problem with Europe. Only through concerted action at the European level can we tackle the transboundary pollution that was responsible for a significant part of last year's increased number of ozone related bad air days in the UK.'

I very much welcome the fact that a number of member states have shown a more flexible approach to the ceilings proposed under the National Emission Ceilings Directive. The UK has pledged substantial further reductions in our ceilings for sulphur dioxide and VOCs - more than any other EU member state. I shall be pressing for this directive to be agreed by the Environment Council this summer.'

Notes

Air quality headline indicator for sustainable development DETR issued today a statistical Information Bulletin,(313) hard copies can be obtained on this No. 0171 890 4653. Air quality headline indicator for sustainable development: 1999. It reports that in urban areas, despite an increase in ozone levels due to the warmer weather, in 1999 the average number of days per site when air pollution was recorded as 'moderate' or higher was 30, about half the rate when the series began in 1993. The average number of days of air pollution caused by particles and by sulphur dioxide, solely or in combination with other pollutants, fell to nine, a reduction of over 80 per cent since 1993.

The government believes that indicators are integral to the monitoring of progress towards achievement of the strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom, A better quality of life1, published in May 1999. A set of 15 headline indicators of sustainable development has been established. These are intended to

focus attention on what sustainable development means, and to give a broad overview of whether we are achieving a 'better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come'.

The headline indicators, together with over 130 other indicators of sustainable development, were published in Quality of life counts2 in December 1999. This provides a baseline assessment for monitoring and reporting on future progress towards economic, social and environmental sustainable development.

The air quality headline indicator measures the average number of days per site on which pollution levels were above National Air Quality Standards, equivalent to being in bands of moderate or higher pollution. The pollutants included within the indicator are particles (PM10), ozone, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.

The air quality headline indicator measures the average number of days per site on which pollution levels were above National Air Quality Standards. The standards represent defined levels which avoid significant risks to health. As levels increase above the Standard, the likelihood of effects on health increases. For example, levels of ozone in the 'high' band may cause coughing and discomfort on deep

breathing during exercise in some people.

National Emissions Ceilings Directive

The European Commission brought forward its proposal for a National Emissions Ceiling Directive in June 1999 and the European Parliament completed its first reading in March. The draft directive parallels the recently agreed UNECE Gothenberg Protocol (PN1145 1/12/99) and would set emissions ceilings for the same four atmospheric pollutants (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia). It aims to tackle three key environmental problems:

- acidification which damages plants, aquatic habitats and buildings;

- eutrophication (excess nitrogen in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems), which leads to reduced biodiversity, and

- ground level ozone which has damaging effects on human health, crops, natural vegetation and man-made materials.

For 2 out of the 4 pollutants - volatile organic compounds, the major precursor to ground level ozone, and sulphur dioxide - the UK's agreed ceilings under the UNECE Protocol represent the largest reductions of any member state. The UK will be actively seeking a high level of environment protection in the current round of

negotiations, and in particular tightened ceilings for those member states which have not yet shown the same level of environmental ambition as the UK. The UK fully supports the initiative of the Portuguese presidency to reach agreement on the directive at the council meeting of EU environment ministers in June.

Air Quality Framework Directive and Air Quality Daughter Directives The 1996 EU Air Quality Framework Directive establishes a framework under which the EU will set ambient air quality limit values and target values for individual pollutants. The Directive identifies twelve pollutants for which limit or target values will be set in subsequent daughter directives. The UK achieved agreement on the first Air Quality Daughter Directive during its presidency of the EU in 1998. It establishes legally binding limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particles and lead to be achieved by 2005 and 2010.

The directive was adopted in April 1999. The second daughter directive, which sets limit values for benzene and carbon monoxide achieved a common position at Environment Council in December 1999. It is currently awaiting a second reading by the European Parliament.

The Ozone Directive is the third proposal for a daughter directive under the Air Quality Framework Directive (96/62/EC) and will eventually replace the current ozone directive (92/72/EEC).

The proposal includes long-term objectives, equivalent to the World Health Organisation's new guideline values, and, for the first time, interim target values for ozone in ambient air to be achieved as far as possible by 2010. The emission ceilings proposed by the European Commission in the National Emission Ceilings Directive for 2010 are forecast by the Commission to deliver the target values for ozone in the Ozone Directive.

Solvents Directive

The Solvents Directive, which was agreed under the UK presidency of the EU and adopted in 1999, aims to reduce emissions of VOCs, which contribute to the formation of ozone, from certain industrial installations by around 57% by 2007, compared to a 1990 baseline.

1 A better quality of life: a strategy for sustainable development in the UK. TSO, 1999, (ISBN 0 10 143452 9)

2 Quality of life counts: Indicators for a strategy for sustainable development for the United Kingdom. DETR, 1999, London (ISBN 1 85112 3431).

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