Deutsche Umwelthilfe and IASS Issue Recommendations on Ground-Level Ozone (October 2015)

Alongside particulate matter, ozone is one of the main causes of adverse health effects due to severe air pollution. Existing laws and regulations are not sufficient to bring about a lasting reduction in ozone concentrations that would sufficiently protect the population from its harmful effects. On Wednesday, 28 October 2015, the European Parliament planned to vote on a revision of the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD). In advance of that vote, the IASS and Environmental Action Germany (DUH) formulated relevant policy recommendations in an IASS Policy Brief on “Ground Level Ozone - A Neglected Problem” that was distributed among MEPs. The Policy Brief informs readers about the latest research findings on the effects of ground-level ozone on human health, ecosystems and the economy and delivers the following key messages:

Message 1: To lower ozone concentrations as quickly and effectively as possible, precursors (NOx, NMVOCs and methane) must be reduced. Previous efforts to reduce precursors have not led to a sufficient reduction in ozone concentrations. This goal could be realised by implementing the following measures:

  •     Updating the Decorative Paints and EU Solvents Directives to reduce VOC emissions;
  •     Introducing a regulation to test NOx emissions under real driving conditions – not just in laboratory conditions – and banning vehicles that produce high emissions (emission standards);
  •     Establishing a limit for methane emissions in the EU National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive;
  •     Instituting concrete obligations to reduce agricultural methane emissions in the EU’s 2030 Framework for climate and energy

Message 2: Greater awareness of the considerable danger ground-level ozone poses to the environment and health is required among policymakers and the public if this issue is to return to the political agenda. If we assume the target value for ozone recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a basis, then practically all regions in Europe have ozone concentrations that are hazardous to health. The resulting pressure on the health system is also detrimental to the economy. Furthermore, ozone has an adverse effect on ecosystems, which results in even greater economic losses, for example loss of agricultural earnings. In spite of these negative effects, there is no substantial public discussion of causes, sources, effects and damages. A public discussion and the public pressure it creates would increase political awareness of this issue and foster action, leading politicians to introduce and implement more wide-ranging measures to reduce emissions. Only in this way will we be able to avoid damages to the environment and human health in the future.

Message 3: Continued basic research on the formation and interactions of ozone as well as its effects on the climate, human health and the environment should be funded. Such scientific research is fundamental to efforts to reduce ozone concentrations. According to the latest research, ozone is, together with particulate matter, one of the most important and harmful air pollutants in Europe. Additionally, initial findings indicate the existence of further adverse effects, which only serve to highlight the importance of reducing ozone to protect the environment, climate and human health. Further research is required on the interactions of precursor species and ozone, as well as on possible feedback effects. This will ensure that future reductions in nitrogen oxides and VOCs will result in significantly lower ozone concentrations for the adequate protection of human health, the environment and the climate.