United against the tightening of standards to improve air quality. The Community of Madrid and Catalonia have signed a document, together with other regions of northern Italy, the Netherlands and Austria, to demand that the European Commission leave them out of the new demands raised in October 2022 to comply with the guidelines established by the World Health Organization (WHO). “We recommend that the derogation option for specific regions be part of the revision of the air quality directive,” the text states. advanced by El País.
Air pollution is more harmful to the heart than cholesterol or being overweight
The eight regions, which joined forces in 2011 under the name of the Air Quality Initiative of the Regions (AIR), defend the intention of Brussels to adapt the pollution limit values to the standards established by the WHO , but remember that the “challenge is enormous” for those areas that already far exceed the established limits as they are highly populated and industrialized places. “AIR proposes the development of ambitious but realistic limits, which include a realistic time trajectory (with provisional targets) and emission targets to achieve them”, states the document signed by Madrid, Catalonia, the Dutch provinces, Steiermark (Austria) and various regions. Northern Italy (Emilia Romagna, Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto).
“AIR also suggests exposure reduction targets for zones and agglomerations. The feasibility of new air quality standards must be evaluated by scenarios. Any standard-setting system must be designed in such a way that it stimulates government action, but also supports the authorities in the implementation of all necessary additional measures”, justify those regions, which claim “sufficient time to implement additional measures” and that “adverse geographical and meteorological conditions” are taken into account.
The pressure to lower the air quality requirements raised by the Commission occurs when the revision of the directive is being processed both in the European Parliament and in the Council of the EU, where the governments of the 27 are represented, which will establish their positions for subsequent joint negotiation. The European Commission avoids, therefore, ruling on initiatives raised by third parties and leaves the ball in the court of the negotiators.
The negotiation of Spain, in the opposite direction
On the part of Spain, the person in charge of this negotiation is the vice president and minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, whose department has reacted angrily to the maneuver of the executives of Isabel Díaz Ayuso and Pere Aragonés. “Madrid and Catalonia’s proposal to continue polluting is indecent and puts people’s lives at risk. The health of citizens is at stake. The measures aimed at reducing pollution cannot be relaxed ”, they point out from the ministry.
In fact, the move by the group in which Madrid and Catalonia participate goes contrary to what the Government is defending in the negotiations, which will be one of the priorities for the rotating presidency of the EU that Spain will assume next semester. . “Climate change has been warning us that there is neither time nor excuses. The Ministry is fighting in Brussels so that the air quality regulations are much more demanding ”, they affirm in Ecological Transition.
“We want to better adjust European legislation to the recommendations of the World Health Organization,” they add from the ministry, where they recall that Spanish legislation, through the climate change law, goes in that direction with the obligation to establish zones low emissions in all towns with more than 50,000 inhabitants.
The Generalitat stands out and considers leaving the AIR
Sources from the Generalitat de Catalunya point out that they worked on the AIR text in October and that they showed their differences with the text. Last March, the Pere Aragonès government sent amendments in the revision of the directive that is being processed in the European Parliament, which, according to their defense, made it clear that they did not subscribe to the position of the AIR document.
After sending these amendments and explaining its position to the MEPs, Catalonia has not returned to support the text. “That is why we are considering the withdrawal of the AIR group,” they explain.
From the Government they explain that they are in contact with MEPs and research centers to give “full support to the directive”. They do claim, on the other hand, “possible relaxations” for those cases where adapting to the limit values ”requires more extensive measures than those provided for in the regulations”, informs Arturo Bridge.
“It is unusual and shameful that Madrid and Catalonia have not agreed on anything in a decade and now they are doing it to say that we do not deserve cleaner air,” denounced MEP Javier López, from the PSC, who is the speaker at the revision of the directive, and regrets that in the face of the “strengthening of air quality standards” requested by the European Parliament, there is a “request for territorial flexibilities together with the Italian extreme right” which, in his opinion, “undermines the protection of public health in the face of what is considered by the European Commission as the greatest environmental threat”.
For his part, a spokesman for the community government recalls that the proposal presented by the executive vice president for the Green Pact, Franz Timmermans, already includes “possibilities of extending time or exceptions to address situations in which acute compliance problems persist despite appropriate pollution abatement measures.
In fact, when the European Commission proposed the revision of the air quality directive on October 26, it already recognized that its objectives were less ambitious than those of the WHO because it was not feasible for a large part of Europe to achieve the limits established by the WHO by 2030. For example, it placed PM₂.₅ (which is the main pollutant) at 10 micrograms per annual cubic meter, compared to the 5 recommended by the WHO, although well below the current limit of 25. It also left in the hands of the national and local authorities the specific measures to implement to comply with the established standards.
The intention of the European Commission with the revision of this directive is to reduce by 75% the premature deaths caused by the high levels of PM₂,₅ and that currently reach 300,000 in the old continent. “Our health depends on our environment. An unhealthy environment has direct and costly consequences for our health. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans die prematurely each year and many more suffer from heart and lung diseases and cancers caused by pollution. The longer we wait to reduce this pollution, the greater the costs to society. We want our environment to be free of harmful pollutants by 2050. This forces us to step up our efforts now. Our proposals to continue reducing air and water pollution are a crucial element in solving the problem,” Timmermans summarized in October.
Now eight regions, including Madrid and Catalonia, are joining forces to lower those expectations. In the case of Spain, it was condemned by European justice precisely because of the high levels of pollution both in the capital and in the metropolitan area of Barcelona.