This week the European Parliament debated the issue of environmental noise which is responsible for the death of 10,000 people in Europe each year. However, a European Directive, which should provide a remedy, does not specify any concrete, quantifiable targets and binding deadlines for their implementation - a reason why too little is done in too many Member States.

Noise was the topic in the Transport Committee of the European Parliament on 11th October, when the Environmental Noise Directive of the EU and its effectiveness were discussed. Environmental noise is the means the noise caused by transport (road, rail or air), industrial and recreational activities. The respective Directive, which was adopted in 2002, has now been evaluated by the Centre for Strategy and Evaluation Service, which is why both Mark Whittle on behalf of the Centre and Bernhard Berger for the EU Commission (Directorate-General for the Environment) had been invited to present their expertise and to take part in a debate with MEPs.

Noise causes 10,000 deaths each year

Based on calculations of the European Environment Agency (EEA) noise has severe consequences: each year, at least 10,000 people in Europe die of the consequences of environmental noise. 43,000 people are admitted to hospital because of noise pollution and 125 million are permanently exposed to a high level of noise. This, according to Berger, makes noise the second largest environmental problem after air pollution. Moreover, it burdens healthcare systems with high costs and, due to health impairments, also reduces the productivity of the European economy.

However, part of these figures could only be ascertained based on the Environmental Noise Directive, as it, for the first time ever, committed EU Member States to measure or calculate relevant data. Based on this it would be possible to plan further legislative steps or to adopt action plans; however, this has not been done to this day. As Whittle explained, one of the main reasons is that different European countries have a different approach to noise and that in some cases an approach had to be developed at all. The EU Commission is currently considering to officially propose initial concrete steps for noise reduction in early 2017, when the second Implementation Report on the Environmental Noise Directive will be presented. According to Berger, these proposals should be guided by the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Binding, quantifiable targets with implementation periods are required

As the Chamber of Labour has pointed out, one problem of the Directive is that it does not lay down any relevant and verifiable targets that the Member States have to achieve. This is why action plans for their implementation are hardly suitable to achieve these targets: for example, no sufficiently precise analyses of who is affected are to be found in the Austrian ones and hence no respective measures have been specified. The AK holds the view that the Directive has to be revised in order to commit EU Member State to take appropriate action. The national action plans should conform to minimum requirements with regard to the level of detail and concrete time frames are required for the implementation of the measures in the Member States. To achieve this, it would be necessary to issue binding limits for noise related rehabilitation in particular with regard to roads, rail and airports, which are currently voluntary. In addition, long-term solutions should be considered: noise prevention and the protection of quiet areas also have to be included in these action plans.

Further information:

AK Position Paper (German)

Environmental Noise Directive

“Noise in Europe 2014” (EEA Study)