A new way forward
Scientific knowledge of the threats posed to people's health and the environment by air pollutants is improving. It is now clear that air pollution causes more damage than previously understood. We are therefore currently developing a national Clean Air Strategy.
We can reduce levels of pollution by tackling emission sources. In addition, other polluting sectors that have not shown significant reductions should also contribute to overall targets where cost effective opportunities exist.
Air pollution challenges
Air pollution continues to present challenges including;
- transport emissions, especially road transport emissions of NOx, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and black carbon arising from increase in diesel cars and buses in our cities and towns;
- emissions from industry, agriculture and shipping,
- the persistent problem of ‘smoky’ emissions from the use of solid fuel in homes. National estimates indicate that they are a key source of PM2.5. They are responsible for around 60% of all national emissions, though providing less than 5% of national energy demand.
Recent studies have identified air pollution as the top environmental cause of premature death in Europe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the EU estimates that each year more than 400,000 premature deaths are due to poor air quality in Europe. The most common causes of premature death due to poor air quality are strokes and heart disease. The economic impact is also major with increased cost of healthcare and lost working days. Air pollution also has significant impacts on ecosystems and buildings.
In Ireland, for 2013, the European Environment Agency estimates that approximately 1,600 premature deaths were due to fine particulate matter and other air pollutants. In addition, estimates indicate that air pollution has health-related costs in Ireland of over € 2 billion per year. In other words, a loss of 382,000 workdays per year.
The phasing out of lead in petrol and the introduction of vehicle emission standards are examples of EU policy changes which improve the air we breathe.
Developments in Ireland
In Ireland, there has been improvements over the decades through a host of policy measures at EU and national levels. The introduction of the smoky coal ban in the early 1990’s is a good example of a national initiative that led to significant change and improvements in air quality in urban areas.
National Clean Air Strategy Consultation
Recent scientific evidence indicates that air pollution is more damaging at lower concentrations than was previously understood. With this in mind, we are committed to publishing the National Clean Air Strategy this year, which will provide the policy framework necessary to identify and promote integrated measures across Government that are required to reduce air pollution and promote cleaner air, while delivering on wider national objectives.
Given the wide range of pollutant sources, it is important that action is coordinated across various sectors. There are a number of plans under development, including the National Air Pollution Control Programme, and the National Energy and Climate Plan, which are relevant to the clean air agenda. We are keen to ensure that synergies are maximised between these plans and the National Clean Air Strategy, with a view to achieving lasting reductions in the health and environmental impacts of air pollution.
The European Commission held its first Clean Air Dialogue with Ireland in March 2017, to promote actions to improve air quality and contribute to Ireland's implementation of EU clean air legislation. The productive dialogue is summarised in shared conclusions that will also feed into this consultation process.