by Ambassador of the European Union Michael Reiterer
TAIEX Workshop on Air Pollution and Health
On Wednesday 07 February 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
Vice President Yoon Seok-Jin, of the Korea Institute for Science and Technology (KIST), thank you for hosting the work shop, thank you to colleagues having travelled to attend today.
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the first EU–Korea workshop on Air pollution and Health. Your presence is a powerful reminder of the urgent need to act.
For the past few weeks, Seoul has been experiencing very bad air quality levels.
The air quality index of Seoul exceeded 179 micrograms of fine dust per cubic meter, which is the highest level among global metropolitan cities after New Delhi in India. This is way beyond the level of what the World Health Organisation considers as safe. Moreover, a recent report produced by the OECD warns that one of the countries forecasted to have the biggest rise in the rate of mortality from air pollution is the Republic of Korea, after India and China.
The high level of pollutants in Seoul is a matter of concern - not just for citizens living here, including myself and you, but also for other regions. As you are well aware, fine dust can travel long distances. Therefore, air pollution is not just Seoul’s problem but one of the most challenging global issues that we are facing in our time.
Clean air is essential to our health and to the environment and yet, since the industrial revolution, the quality of the air we breathe has deteriorated considerably - mainly as a result of human activities. Rising industrial and energy production, the burning of fossil fuels, and the dramatic rise in traffic on our roads all contribute to air pollution in our towns and cities which, in turn, can lead to serious problems for both health and the environment. 92% of the world's population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits.
It also impacts on the quality of our lives by causing or exacerbating asthma and respiratory problems. Air pollution causes lost working days and high healthcare costs, with vulnerable groups such as children, asthmatics and the elderly the worst affected. The same OECD report also indicates that air pollution will cause 6 to 9 million premature deaths –roughly the size of the population of Denmark - and cost 1% of global GDP by 2060. It also damages ecosystems through excess nitrogen pollution and acid rain.
The European Union also suffers greatly from substantial air pollution and health risks. In the EU alone, more than 400,000 citizens die prematurely each year as a result of poor air quality, which is about 15 times higher than fatalities from road traffic accidents. You can keep off the roads. But you can't stop breathing air. Karmenu Vella, the European Commissioner for Environment even said last year: "Air pollution is an invisible killer."
However, we are making some progress to counter the rising level of pollution. The European Union has set itself the goal to achieve levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment. Since the early 1970s, the EU has been working to improve air quality by controlling emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere, improving fuel quality, and by integrating environmental protection requirements into the transport and energy sectors. The EU has also been working closely with Member States to ensure good air quality and safeguard public health in Europe.
As a result, the EU has improved its policy measures and advanced technical solutions. Much progress has been made in tackling air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and benzene. Moreover, in the first 15 years of this Century, the EU has been successful in decoupling emissions from economic growth. We saw the combined GDP of the European Union grow by 32 percent, whilst emissions of the main air pollutants actually decreased, for example by 10 percent for Ammonia and by 70 percent for Sulphur Dioxide (S02).
Yet, and despite the progress made to date, poor air quality remains one of the biggest environmental concerns for Europeans. That is why in 2016 European leaders signed new pollution limits into law. These new standards should halve the negative health impacts of air pollution by 2030. And we have a new tool for finding solutions, the Environmental Implementation Review. It's not just for States – it's also for regions and cities, and more importantly for citizen, for us. It's there to help identify the places where implementation isn't working, and to fill those gaps with solutions we can find together.
We have to tackle the source of these problems, and the European Commission is doing that in key sectors, such as energy, agriculture and transport.
Regarding transport, last November, the European Union adopted a second package of measures to deliver Low Emission Mobility. The new, lower targets for CO2 vehicle emissions and the incentives for zero and low emission vehicles will drive the market towards cleaner options. Zero and low emissions cars mean less CO2 and less air pollution. And our proposals cover not only cars, but also smaller vans that are so present in our cities. I believe that they will have a major impact on reducing urban air pollution.
To be part of our ongoing efforts in abating emissions and air pollution, I am proud to say that, the Delegation of the European Union, are one of the early adopters of the policy of purchasing and driving electric and hybrid cars in Seoul. Member States' embassies, like Germany are following.
But mobility is only one part of the clean air story. We also need to create the right incentives in our agricultural policies, in our buildings and urban planning policies, and in many other policy areas at many levels. In this respect, the EU has financed a number of projects supporting actions for cities to be more resilient and sustainable.
Today’s joint workshop on air pollution and health will be looking at the whole spectrum of emissions, the cocktail of pollutants that we breathe and the technical solutions across the board. European and Korean experts will present their findings and exchange their knowledge and best practices in the priority areas, ranging from practices in measuring urban air pollution, air quality management, modelling and forecasting, to the health impact from exposure to fine particles.
The keynote speeches will look at where we need to focus and how we need to act in order to tackle this silent killer. The presentations will guide us through the current status of air quality in the EU and Korea: In the first session, our experts will share the case studies with focus on cities. The second session will present the challenges of measuring and forecasting ultrafine particles and air quality. To close the workshop, the last session will discuss the health impact of exposure to fine particles and the different assessment measures.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the European Union, I hope you will have fruitful and productive workshop and I count on you to disseminate the new competences you will acquire from the workshop.
I am looking forward to the beginning of a process of cooperation!