Air Quality in Europe 2017

European Environment Agency regular assessments of Europe’s air pollutant emissions, concentrations and their associated impacts on health and the environment

Based upon the latest official data available from countries, this updated 2017 report presents new information, including:

  • updated data on air pollutant emissions and concentrations, and urban population exposure (for the year 2015);
  • updated assessments of total population and ecosystems exposure data, and air quality impacts on health (for the year 2014);
  • a sensitivity analysis of the health impact assessments, considering two different counterfactual concentrations for particulate matter (PM) with a diameter of 2.5 µm or less (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
  • a summary of emissions from agriculture and how they impact on air quality and climate change, which in turn impact on agricultural yields. Selected examples of measures that may mitigate emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases are provided.

Executive summary

Air pollution is a key environmental and social issue and, at the same time, it is a complex problem posing multiple challenges in terms of management and mitigation of harmful pollutants. Air pollutants are emitted from anthropogenic and natural sources; they may be either emitted directly (primary pollutants) or formed in the atmosphere (as secondary pollutants). They have a number of impacts on health, ecosystems, the built environment and the climate; they may be transported or formed over long distances; and they may affect large areas. Effective action to reduce the impacts of air pollution requires a good understanding of its causes, how pollutants are transported and transformed in the atmosphere, and how they affect humans, ecosystems, the climate, and subsequently society and the economy.

The current report presents an updated overview and analysis of air quality in Europe from 2000 to 2015. It reviews the progress made towards meeting the air quality standards established in the two European Ambient Air Quality Directives, and towards the long-term objectives of achieving levels of air pollution that do not lead to unacceptable harm to human health and the environment. It also presents the latest findings and estimates on population and ecosystem exposure to the air pollutants with the greatest impacts and effects on human health and the environment. The evaluation of the status of air quality is based mainly on ambient air measurements, in conjunction with data on anthropogenic emissions and their evolution over time.

Air quality policies have delivered, and continue to deliver, many improvements. Reduced emissions have improved air quality in Europe, and, for a number of pollutants, exceedances of European standards are rare. However, substantial challenges remain and considerable impacts on human health and on the environment persist. A large proportion of European populations and ecosystems are still exposed to air pollution that exceeds European standards and, especially, the World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs).

Effective air quality policies require action and cooperation at global, European, national and local levels, which must reach across most economic sectors and engage the public. Holistic solutions must be found that involve technological development and structural and behavioural changes. These will be necessary to achieve human wellbeing and social development, to protect the natural capital and to support economic prosperity, all of which are part of the European Union’s (EU) 2050 vision of living well within the limits of the planet.

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