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Air quality success – but how will Brexit impact?

Press release


At a seminar in Brussels later today [Tuesday, 11 October], the role of EU policy in improving air quality will be praised, at a time when such policies face an uncertain future because of the result of Britain’s European referendum.

Professor Piers Forster, Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, will highlight a study led by the University which found that about 80,000 deaths are prevented each year across Europe due to the introduction of EU policies and new technologies to reduce air pollution.

Published earlier this year in the journal Environmental Research Letters, it is the first study to look into the effectiveness of specific EU policies to reduce air pollution across Europe. It reveals that the policies have led to a 35% reduction of fine particles in the atmosphere over the period 1970 to 2010, which has improved public health across Europe.

The good news, however, comes at a time when such policies face an uncertain future in light of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

Study co-author Professor Dominick Spracklen, from the University’s School of Earth and Environment, said: “Our work shows that EU policies have improved air quality. When the UK exits the EU, our air quality policy will no longer be subject to EU legislation, with potential implications for future air quality.

“It is vital that we continue to reduce air pollution emissions to ensure future air quality and the health of the British public.”

In the study, the researchers used a computer model to compare the current amount of air pollution simulated across Europe to a scenario in which no air quality legislation or new emissions technologies had been introduced since 1970.

Such policies to reduce emissions include EU regulations for the improvement in fuel quality and the adoption of European emissions standards in transport. The study also looked at technological advances to reduce emissions, such as the introduction of particle filters and catalytic converters.

The researchers then used relationships between the amount of air pollution and impacts on human health to attribute the number of lives saved due to the improved air quality.

The study reveals that an average of 80,000 lives are being saved each year across Europe.

Study co-author Professor Ken Carslaw, also from the University’s School of Earth and Environment, said: “To put this number in perspective, in 2011 just slightly in excess of 400,000 premature deaths were attributed to particulate air pollution over Europe. So EU policy has dramatically improved the health of European citizens.”

Lead author Dr Steven Turnock, who conducted this research as part of his PhD studies at the University of Leeds, concluded: “Air pollution is a trans-boundary problem that does not recognise national borders. The improvements in human health shown in this research have been achieved by European countries acting together.“

Further information

The seminar in Brussels, Sustainable Solutions for Europe: Meeting the Challenges of Air Quality and Climate Change, is held from 14:30-18:00 (local time) on Tuesday, 11 October 2016. A policy note about the seminar is published on the Priestley International Centre for Climate website.

The study, The impact of European legislative and technology measures to reduce air pollutants on air quality, human health and climate, was published by Environmental Research Letters.

This study received funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the EU Framework 7 PEGASOS project, the Met Office and the United Bank of Carbon.

Professor Piers Forster, Dr Dominick Spracklen and Professor Ken Carslaw are available for interview. Please contact Sarah Reed, Media Relations Officer at the University of Leeds, on 0113 343 4196 or email



Download: Caption: The map shows the number of premature deaths prevented each year due to the introduction of European Union (EU) policies and new technologies to reduce air pollution. The numbers given are for a 4km by 4km grid square. Credit: Turnock et al., Environ. Res. Lett. (2016) licensed under CC-BY 3.0.