Clean air is essential for our health and the environment. However, air quality is under serious threat from human activities that produce polluting emissions. Air quality is particularly poor in many urban areas. 
The EU has taken an active role in tackling air pollution. Legislation on air quality has been in place for a long time, and the EU Action Plan on Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil, adopted in 2021, contributes to the reduction of air pollution. Cohesion Policy also plays an important role in the drive for better air quality. The Cohesion Policy programmes for 2021-2027 envisage total investments of more than EUR 71 billion that principally or significantly contribute to reducing air pollution, of which around EUR 52 billion is EU funding.
On this page, you can use interactive charts to explore the planned investments by fund, country and type of action based on Cohesion Open Data.

The vital importance of clean air

Air pollution is an important environmental health problem in the EU. It causes serious illnesses such as asthma and cardiovascular problems, with vulnerable groups being most affected. It also damages the environment through excess nitrogen pollution and acid rain, and is costly to our economy through lost working days, high health care costs and environmental destruction. Investing in reducing air pollution is therefore not only good for human health and natural resources, but also makes economic sense and contributes to regional development.
The EU has been working for decades to reduce air pollution to levels that do not cause adverse effects and risks to human health and the environment. There are three main pieces of legislation that set air quality standards:
  • the Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe
  • the Directive relating to arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air
  • the Directive on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants
In 2021, the European Commission adopted the EU Action Plan towards zero pollution for air, water and soil, which is a key deliverable of the European Green Deal. The Action Plan provides a compass for mainstreaming pollution prevention in all relevant EU policies, strengthening the implementation of the relevant EU legislation and identifying possible gaps. The Cohesion Policy funding is an important contributor to achieving zero pollution through investments in, inter alia, energy efficiency, air quality measures, sustainable urban transport and green infrastructure.
As part of the European Green Deal's goal of zero pollution, the Commission tabled a proposal to revise the ambient air quality directives in 2022. The proposed directive would set air quality standards for 2030 that are more in line with the recommendations of the Word Health Organization and include a mechanism for their regular review. In order to meet the standards on time, the Member States would have to draw up air quality plans in advance of 2030.

Methodology for tracking investments in air quality

In the period 2021-2027, the contribution of Cohesion Policy to clean air objectives targets is tracked through a system of markers. These markers quantify the expenditure contributing to clean air objectives by assigning a certain weight to each category of investment. The methodology for tracking the contribution to clean air objectives was published along with the implementation report mandated by Article 11 of the Directive (EU) 2016/2284 on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants. The methodology is based on the following rationale:
  • Investment categories that contribute principally to the achievement of clean air objectives are considered with a weight of 100%
  • Investment categories that contribute significantly to the achievement of clean air objectives are given a weight of 40%
  • Any other expenditure is not considered to contribute to clean air objectives, i.e. it is given a weight of 0%
Clean air coefficients aligned to EU climate coefficients for the programmes under the Cohesion Policy regulation for the 2021-2027 can be found on the European Commission's clean air tracking website.

EUR 71 billion for clean air

The chart opposite shows the volume of Cohesion Policy investment contributing to clean air objectives in terms of planned budget by fund, based on clean air tracking.
For the 2021-2027 programming period, a total investment of more than EUR 71.4 billion is planned in reducing air pollution under Cohesion Policy, of which over EUR 52.1 billion is in EU funding (situation in February 2024). Taking this amount in relation to the total allocation of the funds programmed, this represents around a 13% share.
It is worth noting that the level of investment in clean air targets under Cohesion Policy has increased significantly compared to the previous period. In 2014-2020, Cohesion Policy allocated around EUR 30 billion to investments aimed at reducing air pollution.
Note: You can filter the chart on the right by country, programme, policy objective or specific objective.
Clean air allocations vary between Member States
There are significant differences between Member States in their allocations to investments contributing to the clean air targets. This is partly explained by differences in the size of national allocations under Cohesion Policy and partly by the priorities set by Member States. At the heart of Cohesion Policy is the idea that less developed Member States and regions receive more support in order to reduce economic, social and environmental disparities across Europe's regions.
Poland has allocated the largest EUR amount to the reduction of air pollution under Cohesion Policy. In addition to Poland, several other countries have significant allocations from the funds contributing to clean air objectives (e.g. Italy and Romania). All Member States have committed to some level of investment in clean air.
Note: In the chart below, TC means territorial cooperation, i.e. Interreg. You can filter the charts by fund, country and specific objective.
The variation in allocations can also be demonstrated by looking at the share of clean air allocations compared to the total Cohesion Policy funds’ allocation across the Member States.
The share ranges from 6% (Ireland) to 18% (Poland and Hungary). The EUR share for all Member States and Interreg programmes (TC) is shown in the chart opposite.
Investments in clean urban transport contribute most

The chart below shows the allocation to the most important intervention fields in terms of financial allocation that contribute to clean air targets after applying of the appropriate weight (40% or 100%). Clean urban transport (rolling stock and infrastructure) receives the largest clean air allocation and thus contributes the most to the investments. This is followed by investment in railways, energy efficiency in public infrastructure and cycling infrastructure. 

Note: You can filter the chart below by fund and country.
Investments fall mainly under the specific objective of sustainable urban mobility
Investments that contribute to clean air objectives fall largely under the specific objective of sustainable urban mobility (RSO 2.8), but there are also investments under other specific objectives. The three most important of these are energy efficiency (RSO 2.1), sustainable transport (RSO 3.2) and nature protection and biodiversity (RSO 2.7). The chart illustrates the distribution of clean air investments under the different specific objectives.
Note: You can filter the chart on the right by fund, country and policy objective.
Member States differ in the composition of investment

The composition of investment in air quality varies considerably between Member States. In general, most Member States have chosen to invest in a combination of areas, while few plan to invest in just a few. Most Member States have some investment in clean urban transport, but there are also Member States that don't plan to invest any Cohesion Policy funds in clean urban transport (e.g. Denmark and Finland). Almost all Member States also plan to invest in energy efficiency in public infrastructure, with the exception of Denmark and Ireland. Other common areas of investment across Member States include, for example, cycling infrastructure and nature and biodiversity conservation.

Note: You can filter the chart below by fund.

Indicators measure the direct deliverables and benefits of clean air investments

Cohesion Policy programmes use common indicators and specific national / regional indicators to measure the outputs and outcomes of the actions supported. The indicators are divided into output and result indicators. Output indicators reflect the direct deliverables of the actions financed by the programmes, while result indicators measure the outcomes (direct benefits) of the interventions supported. In the period 2021-2027, output and result indicators are directly linked to the actions supported.
The charts below show two indicators, an output and a result, that relate directly to air quality. The output indicator (in the left column) reflects the area covered by installed air pollution monitoring systems*, while the result indicator (in the right column) measures the population benefiting from various measures to improve air quality, such as green infrastructure and clean urban transport.
These two air quality common indicators are used predominantly in the specific objective targeting nature protection and biodiversity (RSO2.7). The monitoring of the investment in other specific objectives focuses on the principal policy objective (i.e. clean urban transport). In other words the air quality common indicators do not cover all actions promoting air quality. Programmes also use programme-specific indicators, which cannot be aggregated to the EU level. 
*The indicator measures the number of air quality zones / agglomerations with one or more additional air quality monitoring stations financed through the supported projects. The Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe requires Member States to establish zones and agglomerations throughout their territory and to assess and manage air quality in all zones and agglomerations.
Note: You can filter the charts below by fund, country, programme title and specific objective. You can also toggle between chart views using the hierarchy button.

Examples of projects funded in the period 2014 - 2020

Below are examples of projects from the 2014-2020 funding period that illustrate how investment could be translated into concrete projects. The projects have been selected to represent different types of investment that contribute significantly to clean air objectives: clean urban transport, energy efficiency in public infrastructure and air quality measures.
1) Improving urban public transport in Targovişte, Romania
The aim of the project is to increase the attractiveness of using public transport at the expense of private car use by improving the efficiency, frequency and accessibility of public transport. The measures include the introduction of 28 hybrid buses into the fleet, the construction of modern terminals and fully equipped boarding and alighting stations, and the modernisation and rehabilitation of the road infrastructure on the corridors used by public transport. The measures also include the construction of the operator's bus base and the provision of the necessary facilities for the optimal safety and maintenance of the means of transport.
Improvements in public transport mean less air pollution, which in the long term should improve living conditions and reduce health problems and mortality.
Total investment for the project is
EUR 22 556 598 with the EU’s Cohesion Fund contributing EUR 19 173 109.
Link to the project
2) Buildings at state-run arts schools across Poland made more energy efficient
The aim of the project is to carry out comprehensive energy efficiency renovations in the buildings of state art schools in Poland. The schools to be upgraded are located in major cities in all 16 regions of the country.
The scope includes insulation of the building envelope, replacement of doors and windows, and renovation of ventilation, air conditioning and lighting. Heat sources will also be upgraded or replaced, and building management systems will be installed to better manage energy consumption. Renewable energy equipment such as heat pumps and solar panels will also be installed. The expected results include an overall saving of 60% in energy consumption, which will also lead to a reduction in carbon dioxide and other emissions.
Total investment for the project is
EUR 115 108 665, with the EU’s Cohesion Fund contributing EUR 93 939 523.
Link to the project
3) Assessment and Management of the Lisbon Region Air Quality
The project consists of actions to modernise the air quality monitoring network to ensure the quality of measurement objectives, and to develop studies to reduce air pollutant concentrations and improve air quality in the region. The studies aim, for example, at increasing knowledge and understanding of air pollution phenomena and providing appropriate indicators for the definition of policies and measures to improve air quality in the Lisbon region.
Total investment for the project is
EUR 510 514 with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 255 257.
Link to the project

More information

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Authors: Anu KERKKÄNEN, Dora O'NEILL
Data of Text: February 2024