European Air Pollution: Cost Drops by a Third, but 107 Facilities Cause Half the Damage

European Air Pollution: Cost Drops by a Third, but 107 Facilities Cause Half the Damage

An updated analysis by the European Environment Agency (EEA) reveals that air pollution from large European industry continues to cause significant damage to the environment, climate, and people’s health. However, the study also indicates that the cost of European air pollution has declined by about a third during the past decade.

European Air Pollution: Cost Drops by a Third, but 107 Facilities Cause Half the Damage

The EEA’s 2024 update of its briefing “The costs to health and the environment from industrial air pollution in Europe” presents the latest assessment of the trends in external costs of industrial air pollution from about 10,000 of Europe’s largest facilities, from 2012 to 2021. These facilities report data on pollutant releases and transfers to the European Industrial Emissions Portal.

“Just over 100 of approximately 10,000 facilities addressed in this study are responsible for 50% of the aggregate damage caused by their air emissions. In 2021, the top five Member States with facilities contributing the highest external costs were Germany, Poland, Italy, France, and Spain.” 

The EEA analysis found that the costs of air pollution caused by Europe’s largest industrial plants are substantial, averaging between EUR 268 and EUR 428 billion per year. In 2021, these costs corresponded to about 2% of the EU’s GDP. Notably, just one percent (107) of the most polluting industrial facilities – many of them coal power plants – caused half of the total damage.

Despite the substantial financial burden, the EEA analysis also shows that environmental and health costs of European industry have decreased by a third (-33%) from 2012 to 2021. The EU energy sector has accounted for the vast majority – about 80% – of the total decrease, mainly by adopting best available techniques (BAT) and shifting to renewables and less polluting fuels, largely as a result of EU action.

The European Green Deal has promoted the transition to a greener and more digital industrial sector. Most recently, the revision of the Industrial Emissions Directive and the new Industrial Emissions Portal Regulation (IEPR) aim to drive large European industry towards decarbonisation, zero pollution, circular economy, and innovation. Strengthening of the EU Air Quality Directive is expected to further support this development by bringing pollution limits closer to the health-based guidelines of the World Health Organization.

The EEA will publish the 2nd zero-pollution monitoring and outlook report together with the European Commission later this year. To highlight the challenges and opportunities in the EU energy transition, this year’s report will map the 100 most polluting large combustion plants (LCP) in the EU.

Source: European Environment Agency (EEA)

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