Will the Pact of Amsterdam strengthen the UK’s air quality regulations?

With Britain's crucial European Union (EU) referendum just weeks away, a major new EU-wide initiative has been launched to introduce more ambitious measures to improve air quality and implement closed-loop business processes, in an effort to create smarter, greener cities within EU Member States.

The UK has an unenvious environmental track-record of air pollution breaches and the EU’s worst-ranked bathing water, but the cities of London and Birmingham have both pledged to support the new ‘Pact of Amsterdam’, which will see EU nations build upon existing legislation in order to improve air quality within urban areas.

The Pact of Amsterdam will implement the European Urban Agenda – a joint effort from the European Commission (EC), Member States and the European Cities Networks – to strengthen cities’ abilities to introduce new measures to promote sustainable growth. (Scroll down for video).

Green blueprint

Using the European Investment Bank (EIB) as a “key player”, the Pact seeks to provide technical, financial and legislative aid to incentivise EU cities looking to improve urban lifestyles by addressing key areas such as air quality, housing and urban poverty.

“The Urban Agenda of the EU is a blueprint for the economic, environmental, and social future of our cities and our citizens,” EIB’s vice-president Jan Vapaavuori said. “The Urban Agenda specifies the importance of the EIB in providing smart funding to our smart cities.

“The Bank is key to improving funding and knowledge-sharing for urban authorities across Europe. The EIB’s range of Urban Agenda services and products will be vital in accomplishing the aims laid out in the Pact of Amsterdam.”

One key issue that the UK will be keen to address through the Pact is rising levels of air pollution. Using the EIB as a financial tool, the Pact aims to develop cost-effective and practical measures to reduce pollution in cities by introducing new innovative regulatory concepts and sharing best practice among EU Member States.

With London taking just one week to breach annual pollution limits – a factor in the ongoing court case against Defra – new London Mayor Sadiq Khan will be among those that are keen to introduce a more stringent air quality framework as part of the Urban Agenda, especially amid concerns that European countries will move to relax pollution regulations across the continent at a meeting in Brussels on Friday (3 June).

Khan, who has already promised to improve air quality in the capital, has moved to block those recommendations by penning a letter, alongside Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, to the President of EU’s Environment Council, calling for the introduction of a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to proactively address Europe’s air quality public health crisis”.

“Estimations by the European Commission suggest that weaker national emissions ceilings would lead to about 16,000 extra deaths in the EU every year,” Khan and Hidalgo stated in the letter. “This is not acceptable and we require our Governments to follow the bold lead taken by our cities in tackling this issue.

“Accordingly we are calling on Europe’s institutions and all member states to adopt binding targets for both 2025 and 2030 within the National Emissions Ceiling Directive.”


In other areas of environmental policy, the Pact of Amsterdam is also proposing measures to drive a circular economy in European cities – with an aim to increase resource productivity by 30% by 2030, bolstering the implementation of the EU’s circular economy package.

Efforts to introduce green infrastructure solutions as part of climate adaptation and a long-term structural shift to renewables will also be proposed, as part of the Pact’s efforts to incorporate the objectives established as part of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Given the Pact’s overarching aim to create an enabling environment to allow urban areas to adapt to a “digital transition” and become smarter, greener cities, the UK’s willingness to participate will inevitably add more fuel to the ‘StrongerIn’ party ahead of next month’s EU referendum.

A recent think tank report argued that the UK can ‘exercise global leadership’ on climate change in a reformed EU, and many green groups have already voiced concerns about the “leap into the dark” of leaving the EU. There remains uncertainty about the level of damage that an exit from the Union could cause to a range of Britain’s environmental policies, from energy efficiency to natural capital.

Matt Mace

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