The EEA has published its full assessment “Air Quality in Europe 2022”, which presents the state of air in Europe, assesses the effects of air pollution on health and the ecosystem and determines the sources of emissions into the atmosphere.
According to EEA analysis, air pollution continues to pose significant health risks in Europe, and to affect chronic diseases and premature death. In 2020, 96% of the EU’s urban population will be exposed to concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) above the WHO level of 5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) of air. Air pollution is also a loss of biodiversity and damages agricultural and forest products, causing significant economic losses.
In the EU there are at least 238,000 premature deaths due to fine particles
Poor air quality, especially in urban areas, continues to affect the health of the European population. According to the latest EEA estimates, at least 238,000 people will die prematurely in the EU in 2020 due to exposure to PM2.5 pollution above a WHO level of 5 µg/m³. Nitrogen dioxide pollution caused 49,000 premature deaths in the EU and ozone exposure 24,000.
In addition to premature deaths, air pollution causes health problems and entails significant costs for the health sector. For example, in 2019, exposure to PM2.5 resulted in the equivalent of 175,702 lost life years due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 30 European countries.
Between 2005 and 2020, the number of premature deaths from PM2.5 exposure has decreased by 45% in the EU. If this trend continues, the EU is expected to meet the zero pollution action plan target of reducing premature deaths from air pollution by 55% by 2030.
However, additional efforts will be needed to meet the 2050 zero pollution vision of reducing air pollution to levels no longer considered harmful to health.
Loss of biodiversity, damage to forests and crops
Air pollution also harms terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. In 2020, a reduction in the level of nitrogen deposits was observed for 75% of the entire EU ecosystem. This is a reduction of 12% from 2005, while the EU’s zero pollution action target plan can achieve a 25% reduction by 2030.
According to an EEA analysis, by 2020 59% of forested areas and 6% of agricultural land were exposed to harmful levels of tropospheric ozone in Europe. In 2019, economic losses due to the effects of ground ozone on the wheat crop were about EUR 1.4 billion in 35 European countries, with the largest losses recorded in Germany, France, Poland and Turkey.
More than half of fine particle emissions come from energy use in buildings
According to EEA analysis, the main source of fine particle pollution in Europe is the burning of fuels in the residential, commercial and institutional sectors. These emissions mainly relate to the burning of solid fuels to heat buildings. In 2020, the sector was responsible for 44% of PM10 emissions and 58% of PM2.5 emissions. Other important sources of these pollutants are industry, road transport and agriculture.
Agriculture was also responsible for the largest share (94%) of ammonia emissions and more than half (56%) of methane emissions. The main sources of nitrogen oxides were road transport (37%), agriculture (19%), industry (15%).
Overall, emissions of all key air pollutants in the EU will decline by 2020. This trend has continued since 2005, despite a large increase in the EU’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the same period, according to EEA analysis.