Europeans are worried about the effect of air pollution on health and the environment, according to a special Eurobarometer survey published on October 24. Most also think that industry, public authorities and employers need to do more to improve air quality. Respondents clearly favour an international or European approach to improving air quality and a large majority of the respondents who have heard of EU air quality standards say that they should be strengthened.
Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “People tell us that they want clean air to breathe. People living in cities, asthma sufferers and those living near industrial plants, they are all worried and they are asking us to act. The Commission will lead the way with an ambitious proposal to strengthen EU air quality standards.”
Key findings of the survey
- Concern about health and environmental impact of air pollution
Most Europeans think that health conditions such as respiratory diseases (89%), asthma (88%), and cardiovascular diseases are serious problems in their countries resulting from air pollution. Europeans are also worried about the environmental problems caused in water bodies by air pollution such as acidification and eutrophication (both 83%). Acidification (water becoming more acidic) and eutrophication (excessive amount of nutrients in water leading to overgrowth of algae suffocating other organisms) are among the main consequences of worsening water quality.
- Perception that air quality has worsened
Nearly half of the respondents hold the view that that air quality has deteriorated in the last ten years (47%). This percentage is however an 11-point drop since 2019.
- Support for strengthening EU air quality standards
The Eurobarometer reveals that citizens lack information about air quality problems in their country. Most of Europeans remain poorly informed about the existing EU air quality standards as only a minority of respondents (27%) have heard of them. Nevertheless, a large majority of the respondents (67%) who are aware of EU air quality standards say that they should be strengthened. This is true in all but five Member States.
- Support for more action to promote air quality, especially at international level
A large majority of Europeans think air pollution should be addressed at the international level (65%) followed by the European and the national level (both 42%), and finally the regional or local level (32%). A significant proportion of the respondents also believe that actions should be carried out at all levels simultaneously (19%).
- Individual action to reduce harmful emissions
A majority of Europeans think that large industrial installations, fossil-fuel based energy producers, public authorities, and employers are not doing enough to promote good air quality.
A majority also thinks that the household sector is doing enough. Respondents are more likely to have taken some action to reduce emissions themselves this year than in 2019. Using public transport, cycling, or walking is the most frequent method Europeans report they use to reduce harmful emissions into the air.
As announced in the European Green Deal as part of the zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment, the Commission is about to propose a revision of the current EU air quality standards. This will align them more closely with the most recent World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, and will strengthen provisions to help local authorities achieve cleaner air. The revised proposal will also focus on better implementation in order to help reach those standards in practice.
The Special Eurobarometer survey was conducted between 21 March and 20 April 2022. Some 26,509 respondents from different social and demographic groups were interviewed in their mother tongue, on behalf of the European Commission.
This Special Eurobarometer survey is the follow-up of a 2019 Special Eurobarometer on Attitudes of Europeans towards Air Quality. Many of the questions from the 2019 Eurobarometer have been repeated in this Eurobarometer to enable a comparison of trends.
Source: European Commission