Today’s finding by the European Environment Agency that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution is responsible for an estimated 75,000 premature deaths in Europe shows how deplorable EU governments’ watering-down of diesel car NOx emissions limits is. For the first time the EEA has estimated the number of premature deaths from nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is largely created by diesel vehicles.

Last month governments agreed to new NOx limits from diesel cars that are double the ‘Euro 6’ levels agreed back in 2007. They also delayed the implementation of new limits for all new cars until 2019. This weakening of EU air pollution limits will extend the number of locations continuing to exceed NO2 limits that breach European Directives. 93% of the locations breaching nitrogen dioxide limits are close to roads.

Greg Archer, clean vehicles manager at T&E, said: “75,000 deaths from nitrogen dioxide in Europe, mainly from diesel vehicles, is a deplorable death-toll. Yet EU governments are unnecessarily weakening air pollution limits for diesel cars simply to suit carmakers. Environment ministers must think again at their forthcoming Council meeting.”

Italy (21,600), the UK (14,100) Germany (10,400), France (7,700) and Spain (5,900) suffered the most premature deaths from nitrogen dioxide. All these countries lobbied in favour of weaker limits for diesel cars but are breaching EU nitrogen dioxide limits. The estimates for the UK are significantly lower than the UK’s own estimate of 23,500 deaths attributable to NO2 – indicating the EEA’s method may be conservative.  

Environment ministers will meet on 16 December to consider the decision to weaken and delay NOx limits for diesel cars. It will come before MEPs in the Environment Committee on 14 December when they are expected to resoundingly reject the proposal as illegal because it raises the Euro 6 limits set in 2007.

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