The European Commission on May 12 adopted the Zero Pollution action plan, which sets out an integrated vision for 2050 where pollution is reduced to levels that are no longer harmful to human health and natural ecosystems, as well as the steps to get there.
The EU Action Plan: “Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil” – a key deliverable of the European Green Deal and the main topic of this year’s EU Green Week – ties together all relevant EU policies to tackle and prevent pollution, with a special emphasis on how to use digital solutions to tackle pollution. Reviews of relevant EU legislation are foreseen to identify remaining gaps in EU legislation and where better implementation is necessary to meet these legal obligations.
EU Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the Zero Pollution Action Plan “is geared to bringing the way we live, produce, and consume within the boundaries the planet has set. Pollution determines how healthy and how long our lives will be. Zero pollution is at the heart of the Green Deal, closely connected with our strategies such as Farm to Fork and Biodiversity”.
“When we talk about being climate neutral, this is not just about being carbon neutral, but also having zero pollution. That is the only way we can truly become climate neutral and prevent the loss of up to one million species, which we risk doing now. So we urgently need to bring air, water, and soil pollution down,” Timmermans said. “By 2050, we want all to live in a toxic-free environment. There will still be some deposits, but they will have reached a level that no longer is harmful, neither for our health, nor for the planet,” he said, reminding that pollution in the EU still leads to 1 out of 8 deaths. “So, of every eight people dying, one is a result of pollution. Several cancers, heart, and respiratory diseases; they are all linked to pollution. With the most vulnerable in society, like always, suffering the harshest impacts,” he said.
Pollution in the EU and elsewhere is one of the five main drivers of the risk of ecocide. “So it also contributes to the ongoing mass extinction of species. If we don’t deal with this now, our children will have to deal with it, and that will cost a lot more and will be much more difficult,” he said.
“To create a toxic-free environment, we have to look at all sources of pollution. The cars we drive, the way we farm the land, the pesticides we use, the way we heat, power and ventilate our homes, even the noise we still make. It impacts our health and our lives, but it also determines the fate of the species on which all life on earth depends,” Timmermans said. “We need to start understanding that if we talk about nature, we also talk about ourselves. There is no such thing as humanity at one side and nature at the other. We are a component of nature,” he added.
“To give you an example, we want to reduce the health impact of air pollution by more than 55%, and protect biodiversity from air pollution in an extra 25% of our ecosystems. We want to lower the share of people chronically disturbed by transport noise by 30%, and cut in half the loss of nutrients, the use and risk of pesticides, and the sale of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture. The action plan also set targets for plastic litter, microplastics, and residual municipal waste,” Timmermans said.
“Our overall guiding principle is to avoid creating pollution. If pollution then becomes unavoidable, it has to be minimized, controlled, and where necessary cleaned up. Stricter enforcement will ensure that measures taken are also followed through. This should also be a clear message to Member States and co-legislators: If you make a decision, and the decision needs enforcement, we will enforce. This is of extreme importance,” Timmermans said.
EU Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said noted that environmental pollution negatively affects people’s 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,” he said.
To steer the EU towards the 2050 goal of a healthy planet for healthy people, the Action Plan sets key 2030 targets to reduce pollution at source, in comparison to the current situation. Namely, improving air quality to reduce the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution by 55%; improving water quality by reducing waste, plastic litter at sea (by 50%) and microplastics released into the environment (by 30%); improving soil quality by reducing nutrient losses and chemical pesticides’ use by 50%; reducing by 25% the EU ecosystems where air pollution threatens biodiversity; reducing the share of people chronically disturbed by transport noise by 30%, and significantly reducing waste generation and by 50% residual municipal waste.
The Plan outlines a number of flagship initiatives and actions, including: aligning the air quality standards more closely to the latest recommendations of the World Health Organisation, reviewing the standards for the quality of water, including in EU rivers and seas, reducing soil pollution and enhancing restoration, reviewing the majority of EU waste laws to adapt them to the clean and circular economy principles, fostering zero pollution from production and consumption, presenting a Scoreboard of EU regions’ green performance to promote zero pollution across regions, reduce health inequalities caused by the disproportionate share of harmful health impacts now borne by the most vulnerable, reducing the EU’s external pollution footprint by restricting the export of products and wastes that have harmful, toxic impacts in third countries, launching Living Labs for green digital solutions and smart zero pollution, consolidating the EU’s Knowledge Centres for Zero Pollution and bringing stakeholders together in the Zero Pollution Stakeholder Platform, stronger enforcement of zero pollution together with environmental and other authorities.
Jointly with the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability adopted last year, the action plan translates the EU’s zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment into action. It goes hand in hand with the EU’s goals for climate neutrality, health, biodiversity and resource efficiency and builds on initiatives in the field of energy, industry, mobility, food, circular economy, and agriculture.
This year’s EU Green Week, the biggest annual event on environment policy, on June 1-4 will allow citizens across the EU to discuss zero pollution from its many angles at the main Brussels conference, online and in more than 600 partner events.