Environmental pollution is negatively affecting the health of Europeans, especially of those living close to contaminated sites or in areas where there is a very high flow of traffic. According to a recent EEA report, pollution is linked to a range of disease outcomes, including cancer, heart diseases, stroke, respiratory diseased and neurological disorders and every year over 400,000 premature deaths in the EU are attributed to ambient air pollution. Moreover, the pollution of air, water and soil is also one of the five main drivers of biodiversity loss and it reduces the ability of ecosystems to provide services such as carbon sequestration and decontamination.

In light of the drastic impact of pollution on both health and the environment, the European Union has put forward its zero pollution ambition as a key commitment featured in the European Green Deal (EGD). Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius underlined: 'Environmental pollution not only negatively affects our health, especially of citizens from the most vulnerable groups, but it is also one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. So clearly, there is urgency to act.'

The urgency is reflected in the European Commission’s fast implementation of the EGD roadmap that outlines the EU’s plans to achieve zero pollution by better preventing, remedying, monitoring and reporting on pollution and help mainstreaming the ambition in all policies and investment tools. Already in October 2020, the European Commission published a chemicals strategy for sustainability aiming at reducing the risks associated with producing and using chemicals, considering that global chemicals production is expected to double by 2030.

As a next important step, 2021 will see the publication of an EU Action Plan 'Towards a Zero Pollution Ambition for air, water and soil – building a Healthier Planet for Healthier People'. The plan is set to explore the following key areas to tackle environmental pollution:

  1. Strengthening implementation and enforcement and how public authorities, businesses and citizens can use EU rules on pollution more effectively
  2. Improving legislation related to health and environment
  3. Monitoring and governance of pollution prevention and reduction policies – how it can be strengthened both at EU and international level
  4. Societal change – exploring means, including digital solutions, to drive the shift to more sustainable solutions in our society

Citizens, companies and other organisations can provide their feedback on the Zero Pollution Action Plan and participate in the open public consultation launched by the European Commission.  The consultation is open until 10 February 2021 and the feedback obtained will be taken into account for further development and fine-tuning of the initiative. Have your say!

Image credit: Photo by Chris LeBoutillier from Pexels