Remarks by Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius on the Zero Pollution Action Plan

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.

Good afternoon everyone,

And thank you Executive Vice-President for showing importance of this initiative in a bigger picture of the European Green Deal.

Last year the Commission adopted the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. It was an early bird of our wider approach towards pollution issues.

Together with that strategy, today’s plan translates our zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment into a tangible set of actions for air, water and soil.

It is needed because the EU and its Member States must ensure certain level of life quality for citizens who are now suffering from air and noise pollution.

Premature deaths from air pollution or chronic sleep disturbance from noise pollution must gradually become a thing of the past.

Pollution is also one of the main causes of biodiversity loss and damaged ecosystems that are our key weapon against climate change.

So we have an obligation to reduce pollution to levels that are not harmful to people’s health and the environment and that remain within the limits the planet can cope with.

That is the reason why apart from goals noted by Executive Vice-President action plan also aims to reduce by 25 percent the EU ecosystems areas where air pollution threatens biodiversity.

Why we also want plastic litter at sea and residual municipal waste to be reduced by 50 percent and microplastics released into the environment by 30 percent.

I also want to stress that the economic case for acting on pollution is clear. For example, it is estimated that per year air pollution in the EU costs 5 to 10 times more than it would cost to improve air quality. We also have a thriving industry and innovation capacity for clean technologies and services, and this plan should also benefit them.

How will we make this happen?

Firstly, we come up with the zero pollution hierarchy. It’s a set of principles that we should first of all prevent pollution and where it is not yet possible, it should be minimised. Finally, when pollution occurred, it should be remediated – and the related damage compensated.

Secondly, we rely on our legislative framework. It must be better implemented and where necessary revised to address any gaps.

Thirdly, the plan foreseen 33 concrete initiatives and actions that mainstream pollution prevention in all the relevant EU policies. Of course, due to the lack of time we have today it would be hard to explain every action one-by-one, but I will name at least few.

On air pollution we will propose that the EU’s air quality standards be aligned more closely with the upcoming WHO recommendations and that provisions on monitoring, modelling and air quality plans be strengthened to help local authorities.

Together with Member States, we will also follow up on National Air Pollution Control Programmes and reduction commitments to ensure that the National Emission Reduction Commitments Directive is fully implemented.

Through a number of European Green Deal measures and strategies we will introduce stricter requirements to tackle air pollution at source, such as from agriculture, industry, buildings and energy, and transport. For example, one of the ways to address air and noise pollution will be through the new Euro 7 standard for road vehicles.

Talking about water pollution we will strengthen implementation and modernise existing water-related laws. We will revise The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, modernise Marine Strategy Framework Directive and possibly identify new parameters in the Bathing Water Directive.

We will also work with Member States to promote sustainable and efficient water consumption, discourage water pollution and present a socially fair water bill to all water users and polluters – industry, agriculture and household consumers.

Finally, on soil pollution. Most of the measures will be covered in Soil Strategy which will be put forward later this year. Now I can tell you that our priority is to focus on identifying and remediating contaminated sites.

Definitely, this plan is only the beginning of a long process and it will take time and determination. But we are determined to deliver, and the wins will get bigger as we implement the plan.

Thank you, and now I open the floor to your questions.

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