Joint Audit Report: Many European countries fail to meet air quality standards

Toomas Mattson | 1/30/2019 | 12:15 PM

Text size: [-A] [+A]

Language: EST | RUS | ENG


Many European countries are failing to comply with international and European standards on air quality. Moreover, many governments have failed to take effective action to improve air quality and hence to protect their citizens’ health. These are two of the findings of a joint audit performed by 14 European audit offices, including the Estonian National Audit Office. Only Estonia was found to be in compliance with all the relevant EU standards.

Alongside national audit offices from 14 European countries, the Israeli national audit office and the European Court of Auditors also took part in the audit, the aim of which was to ascertain whether the governments of the countries in question were taking action to improve the air quality.

Wide discrepancies

The joint audit uncovered wide discrepancies between the 15 countries covered by the audit. At one end of the scale was Estonia, which was found to comply with all the relevant standards. At the other end were countries that the European Commission recently brought before the European Court of Justice on account of their continued failure to meet the limit values.

This joint report is a comprehensive summary of 16 audits on air quality performed by the European Court of Auditors and by 15 SAIs in Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Israel, Kosovo, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the Netherlands.

The joint audit report is based on national audits performed in all the participating countries, plus an EU-wide audit.

EU Directive

In 2008, the European Union set limit values for a large number of air pollutants. The main pollutants are particulates (produced by energy consumption and traffic), nitrogen oxides (produced by traffic and energy production) and sulphur dioxide (coal, lignite and oil-shale combustion). Under the terms of the Directive in question, the member states were obliged to analyse the air quality in their countries, report the results to the European Environment Agency, and draw up plans for improving the air quality where they exceeded the relevant limit values. The European Commission is empowered to take action if member states fail to comply with the Directive. If all else fails, the Commission is entitled to institute proceedings at the European Court of Justice.

Premature deaths

Of all types of environmental pollution, air pollution is the single largest health risk in the world. In a report published in September 2018, the European Court of Auditors wrote that air pollution was the cause of 400,000 premature deaths in the EU every year and that measures taken by the EU to combat the problem had not had the desired effect. The worldwide effects of air pollution have also been analysed. During the first international conference on air pollution and health held in the autumn of 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that one in every nine deaths in the world was caused by air pollution.

About Estonia

There are no significant problems regarding ambient air quality in Estonia, and the air in Estonia is among the cleanest compared to other European countries. During the last three years (2014-2016) a few pollutants have exceeded the limit values (e.g. benso(a)pyrene and hydrogen sulphide), but the problems are only local in nature (e.g. stove heating-related problems in Tartu and oil shale industry-related problems in Kohtla-Järve). Regardless, Estonia needs to keep working to improve its ambient air, because although we are currently meeting most objectives, EU requirements are becoming stricter and new, more ambitious goals are being set for reducing emissions.

A detailed overview prepared by the Estonian National Audit Office of the state of the ambient air in Estonia and the organisation of its protection can be found on the website of the National Audit Office.


Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of the National Audit Office
+372 640 0777
+372 513 4900
[email protected]
[email protected]

  • Posted: 1/30/2019 12:15 PM
  • Last Update: 1/30/2019 12:08 PM
  • Last Review: 1/30/2019 12:08 PM

Additional Materials


External links

More News