European industry pollution costs decline, the EEA reports

EEA analysis reveals a significant decrease in pollution costs from Europe's largest industrial plants, yet they still account for 2% of EU GDP.

In brief:
  • EEA's updated briefing shows a one-third reduction in environmental and health costs from industrial air pollution over the past decade.
  • The most polluting facilities, primarily coal power plants, are responsible for half of the total damage, costing EUR 268 to EUR 428 billion annually.
  • EU's shift to renewables and adoption of best available techniques contribute to the decline, aligning with the European Green Deal's objectives.
In detail:

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has released an updated analysis indicating a significant decline in the costs of air pollution caused by Europe's largest industrial facilities. Despite this progress, these costs still represent about 2% of the European Union's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The 2024 update of the EEA briefing, titled 'The costs to health and the environment from industrial air pollution in Europe,' evaluates trends in externalities of industrial air pollution from approximately 10,000 of the largest facilities across Europe, spanning from 2012 to 2021.

The data, sourced from the European Industrial Emissions Portal, reveals that the annual costs of air pollution range between EUR 268 to EUR 428 billion. Notably, just 1% of these facilities, predominantly coal power plants, are responsible for half of the total environmental and health damage.

The analysis highlights a 33% decrease in pollution costs from 2012 to 2021, with the energy sector accounting for about 80% of this reduction. This decline is attributed to the sector's shift towards renewable energy sources, less polluting fuels, and the implementation of best available techniques (BAT), largely driven by EU policies.

The European Green Deal, aiming to make Europe's industry more sustainable and digital, has been a pivotal factor in this progress. The recent revisions to the Industrial Emissions Directive and the new Industrial Emissions Portal Regulation (IEPR) are expected to further steer large European industries towards decarbonisation, zero pollution, and circular economy practices.

Additionally, the strengthening of the EU Air Quality Directive is anticipated to align pollution limits more closely with the World Health Organization's health-based guidelines.

Later this year, the EEA, in collaboration with the European Commission, will publish the 2nd zero-pollution monitoring and outlook report.

This report will focus on the challenges and opportunities in the EU's energy transition, specifically mapping the 100 most polluting large combustion plants (LCP) in the EU.

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