Recent scientific evidence indicates that air pollution is more damaging at lower concentrations than was previously understood. With this in mind, we are committed to publishing the national clean air strategy this year, which will provide the policy framework necessary to identify and promote integrated measures across Government that are required to reduce air pollution and promote cleaner air, while delivering on wider national objectives.
Under the national emission ceilings directive, Directive (EU) 2016/2284, more stringent emission reduction targets for 2020 and 2030 have been set, as percentage reductions from 2005 emission levels, for five key pollutants, namely, sulphur dioxide, 65% reduction by 2020 and 85% reduction by 2030; nitrogen oxides, NOx, 49% reduction by 2020 and 69% reduction by 2030; non-methane volatile organic compounds, NMVOCs, 25% reduction by 2020 and 32% reduction by 2030; ammonia, 1% reduction by 2020 and 5% reduction by 2030; and fine particulate matter, 18% reduction by 2020 and 41% reduction by 2030. The directive requires member states to prepare a national air pollution control programme, NAPCP, to identify the programmes and measures that will deliver on these reduction targets. Ireland’s NAPCP is currently open for public consultation.
While Ireland’s air quality compares favourably with more industrialised and urbanised countries, we have specific challenges which need attention. In terms of overall annual emissions, we have a particular problem with ammonia from agriculture and, to a lesser extent, with NMVOCs and NOx.
Separate from annual emission levels, Ireland faces challenges with ambient air pollution - the concentration of a particular pollutant at a particular place and time. Thresholds for ambient air are established in the clean air for Europe directive, 2008/50/EC. We have a problem with particulate matter in our smaller towns and villages, associated with the burning of solid fuel for domestic heating. In this regard, I am disappointed that a number of coal firms have indicated that they would challenge the decision of two former Ministers to extend the smoky coal ban nationwide.
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There is also some concern about how increased economic activity may impact on levels of NOx from transport in our cities.
As many air pollutants come from the combustion of fossil fuels, there is a significant potential for the successful execution of a climate action plan to positively impact air quality both in ambient terms and overall emissions. A key focus of work in my Department is to ensure that synergies are maximised between climate plans and the national clean air strategy with the purpose of reducing the health and environmental impacts of air pollution in the most efficient manner.