A new air pollution law which imposes ambitious national caps on emissions of key pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and ammonia was given final sign off by the European Parliament today.
MEP Julie Girling, who was in charge of the legislation, said farmers needed to ‘bite the bullet’ and reduce emissions as agriculture is one of the main sources of the pollutants.
Plans to include methane in the targets were dropped after intense lobbying from the farming sector across Europe.
The caps have already been informally agreed with the Dutch presidency of the EU Council following concerns about levels of air pollution, which are said to cause around 400,000 premature deaths in the EU every year.
Diane Mitchell, chief environment adviser at the National Farmers’ Union, said increasing numbers of farmers are participating in nutrient management planning, so trends are heading in the right direction, but meeting the new targets will be ‘challenging’.
She added: “The target agreed today to reduce ammonia emissions by 16 per cent by 2030 is an improvement on the 21 per cent originally proposed by the European Commission.
“We have always been clear that the revised directive should not include methane – this just duplicates other EU and national legislative measures that are already in place to address these emissions. So deletion of this target is welcomed.
“Our aim is to ensure that the implementation ensures a competitive and productive agricultural sector that can also protect and enhance the environment.”
The National Emissions Ceilings directive (NEC) aligns targets for 2020 with international commitments and sets new, more ambitious targets through to 2030, covering sectors including agriculture, transport and industry.
Ms Girling said: “I am very happy to see this key piece of legislation take its final step onto the statute books. Poor air quality is an urgent public health issue. Air pollution does not recognize national borders and we must work together with our EU neighbours to tackle it.
“The UK should be a leader in the fight to tackle bad air quality. I hope, post-Brexit, that the UK continues to work with its European partners on issues such as this. With our national health system we bear the economic consequences of bad air quality directly and we should not allow the progress made in recent years to slip.”
The European Commission estimates total costs of air pollution to be in the range of €330-940 billion a year, including direct economic damage of €3 billion in crop yield loss.