The Generalitat of Catalonia is now considering abandoning the Air Quality Initiative of the Regions (AIR) alliance, which also includes the Community of Madrid and six other European regions, including several Italian ones governed by the Northern League, far right. This is how it has been sent by letter to the members of said alliance, after the controversial request of this group to make future regulations against pollution more flexible and that the new European legislation against pollution contemplates exceptions to its compliance “for specific regions”. All under the argument that the future community standard, which the European institutions are currently negotiating, must contain “ambitious but realistic limits”.
The AIR group established its position last October in a document related to the revision of the EU air quality regulations. But it was not until this Wednesday that this common position was officially presented in the European Parliament by the representatives of three regions of northern Italy, who also said they were speaking on behalf of Catalonia, Madrid and the rest of the AIR members. After EL PAÍS unveiled this document and its presentation in Brussels, criticism followed one another in Spain towards those responsible for the two autonomous communities that have adhered to this request to lower the future community standard. The Ministry for Ecological Transition, for example, considered that it is an “indecent” proposal that “puts people’s lives at risk.” “The health of citizens is at stake,” added the department headed by the third vice president of the Government, Teresa Ribera. “Measures aimed at reducing pollution cannot be relaxed.”
Pollution and health experts and environmentalists consulted by this newspaper have also been very critical of the proposal and of Catalonia’s participation in this alliance. For example, María Neira, director of the Department of Public Health and the Environment at the World Health Organization (WHO), has warned that “reducing ambition in air quality standards means high levels of pollution and, consequently, , deaths associated with lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular diseases, more cases of asthma, neurological affectations…”.
After these negative reactions, the Generalitat has sent two letters to Brussels this Friday trying to clarify its position and in which it leaves the door open to leave the AIR group. The first is for François Wakenhut, head of the Unit of the Directorate General for the Environment of the European Commission. The second to all the members of AIR.
In these writings, the Catalan Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda, which is the one that signs the letter and which has also disseminated them to the media, the Generalitat does not distance itself from the document approved in October by all members of AIR. Instead, he focuses his criticism on the statements made during the presentation of the document in Brussels by the president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana (of the Northern League), who, among other things, assured that the European measures against pollution are “absolutely irrational”. ”.
These words, and not the substance of the matter, is what the Generalitat now clings to to leave the door open to abandon AIR. “They have caused confusion and damage to the work and credibility of the Generalitat of Catalonia”, indicated in one of the letters sent this Friday. “I hope you agree that this is an unfortunate situation that calls into question the continuity of the Generalitat of Catalonia within AIR. Therefore, I would like you to consider rectifying the misunderstanding caused by the interventions during the event and clarifying where AIR’s current position stands. I look forward to receiving your response to the issues raised in this letter”, is stated in the letter addressed to the eight regions that are part of this alliance born in 2011 and that since then has maintained a common position during the updates of European standards against the contamination that have been undertaken.
At the moment, Brussels is the scene of an important debate on the tightening of the air quality directives so that the community regulations come closer to the limits of exposure to the main pollutants that the WHO recommends as safe. The body, after reviewing the scientific literature generated in the last 15 years, decided in September 2021 to tighten these thresholds for suspended particles of less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM₂.₅), particles of less than 10 microns (PM₁₀), ozone (O₃), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), sulfur dioxide (SO₂) and carbon monoxide (CO). And, after this positioning, last year, the European institutions started the process to update the directives to try to get closer to the recommendations of the WHO, which is expected to close this year. It is in this context that the AIR document and the presentation in the European Parliament are framed.
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