Europe’s Zero Pollution Plan: In Progress

Last Updated on May 14, 2024 by Ecologica Life

Did you know that the European Commission has an action plan? A vision, if you like, for a continent without polluted air, water and soil by 2050. An ambitious plan, but is it achievable? In this article we explore the goals of this plan, and how they will be achieved if Europe is to live pollution-free in just 25 years.

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Why Is Pollution a Problem?

Pollution is a public health problem caused by human activities over the last 100-200 years, pollution is a problem that affects public health. The majority of physical and mental illnesses and premature deaths in the EU, especially among the young, the elderly and those with certain medical conditions, are caused by pollution.

As pollution is also a major cause of biodiversity loss, maintaining a toxic free environment is essential to protect biodiversity and ecosystems. Pollution reduces the capacity of ecosystems to provide services such as carbon sequestration and air and water purification.

In the EU, outdoor air pollution is responsible for around 400,000 premature deaths (including cancers such as lung cancer), 48,000 cases of ischaemic heart disease, 6.5 million cases of chronic sleep disturbance due to noise, and various illnesses that can be linked to both noise and air pollution.

The Current Air Pollution Crisis

What is the Target?

The goal set out in the EU’s 2021 EU Action Plan: “Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil” envisions a world (or at least a continent) where pollution is reduced to the point where it no longer harms human health or the natural environment.

The plan is ambitious, but it comes with realistic action points that, if achieved, can turn Europe into the pollution-free safe zone it wants to be. These targets are also in line with the EU’s goals for a sustainable future, a circular economy and the fight against climate change.

2030 Targets

To achieve the 2050 targets, a timetable has been set for tackling the different types of pollution (air, soil and water) and 2030 will be the milestone that will show whether Europe is on track to achieve zero pollution. The short-term targets for 2030 are:

  • Improve soil quality by reducing nutrient losses and the use of chemical pesticides (by 50%),
  • Reduce the number of EU ecosystems where air pollution threatens biodiversity (by 25%),
  • Reduce the percentage (30%) of people chronically affected by noise pollution,
  • Reduce health impacts (premature deaths) from air pollution by more than 55%.

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Is the EU on Track to Achieving Those Goals?

The European Commission published a report on the progress of the Zero Pollution Plan in December 2022 (updated in March 2023).

The results of this report are mixed. The data suggest that for some of the targets, the EU is well on track to meet them by 2030, but for others there has been little improvement.

Pollution from pesticides, antimicrobials and marine litter is decreasing. There has been little change in noise, nutrient and waste pollution.

With a 45% reduction in premature deaths since 2005, significant progress has been made in minimising the negative health effects of air pollution. If the recent trend continues, the EU will be on track to meet its target of a 55% reduction in premature deaths from air pollution. Read our article to find out more about improving air quality.

Preliminary analysis shows that there is less plastic waste in the oceans than before. This is positive but complete and consistent data across the EU is needed to find out if the EU is on track to meet its target of reducing plastic waste by 50% and microplastic waste by 30% by 2030.

Between 2010 and 2018, there was a gradual increase in the total amount of waste produced, followed by a dramatic decrease in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Since 2016, the production of residual municipal waste (waste that is not recycled or reused) has been stable.

The EU will not reach its targets of drastically reducing total waste generation and reducing residual municipal waste by 50% unless waste generation is significantly reduced in the coming years.

In conclusion, for 2030, the EU can meet most of the targets for 2030 if additional efforts are made.

However, pollution levels are still far too high, with over 10% of annual premature deaths in the EU still attributable to environmental pollution.

This is mainly due to air pollution, although the role of noise and chemical exposure is likely to be underestimated. Premature death rates range from 5-6% in northern Europe to 12-24% in southern and eastern Europe.

The Commission’s report urges rapid consensus and adoption of legislative recommendations to reduce hazardous pollution, as well as improved implementation of current measures at local, national and international levels, to make them effective.

In particular, it concludes that the benefits of clean air measures outweigh the costs and will lead to an increase in overall GDP. If the EU implements all the relevant measures recommended by the Commission, the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution could be reduced by up to 66% in 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

The Economic Cost of Air Pollution

Once again the evidence presented today shows us that the benefits of acting for clean air, water and soil are far greater than the investment. This is also what citizens want, as more than 80% are worried about the health and environmental problems caused by pollution

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans

The report also highlights the importance of promoting international initiatives and supporting third world countries in their efforts to combat pollution.

Sustainability is the future and reports like this show that there are sustainable investment and business opportunities in the sector.

If you want to take a personal stance in the fight against pollution, you can start by reducing your carbon footprint.

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