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Zero Pollution Outlook 2022

Pollution is one of the top three global issues threatening the health of our planet, besides climate change and biodiversity loss.  This Outlook estimates the potential of key EU initiatives to reduce pollution in various areas.

Zero Pollution targets  for 2030 Achievable target (based on information available)  Conditions/ Recommendations (based on available data)

Target 1.

Reduce the health impacts (premature deaths) of air pollution by more than 55 % 



66 % reduction in premature deaths due to air pollution between 2005 and 2030.  Full and swift agreement and Implementation of the Commission proposals with clean air benefits, as well as the more ambitious climate and energy policies of the fit for 55 package. 

Target 2.

Reduce the share of people chronically disturbed by transport noise by 30 %   



19 % reduction under an optimistic scenario.   The benefits of implementing the measures are outweighed by the projected growth in population and transport; while road traffic is the most prevalent source of noise, rail and air traffic are projected to increase. 

Target 3.

Reduce the area of EU ecosystems where air pollution threatens biodiversity by 25 % 

target 3


20 % reduction by 2030 compared to 2005. 

Full and swift agreement and implementation of the Commission proposals with clean air benefits, as well as the ambitious climate and energy policies of the fit for 55 package and in particular the Commission proposals to revise the Ambient Air Quality Directives and the Industrial Emissions Directive.


Target 4.

Reduce nutrient losses, the use and risk of chemical pesticides, the use of the more hazardous ones, and the sale of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture by 50 % 

target 4



Possible reduction of nutrient inputs into marine ecosystems:  nitrogen 32 %, phosphorous 17 %.

50 % reduction of nutrient input could be achieved in four of ten examined  regions for nitrogen and in two of ten for phosphorous. 

56 % reduction in pesticides concentration can be achieved in shelf seas, 12 % in open seas, depending on the persistence of the pesticide.  

Reduction of (more hazardous) pesticide concentration in soil due to increased organic farming and other farm-to-fork objectives. 

Further actions in addition to reduction of N atmospheric emissions, and measures under the common agricultural policy to achieve the targets of the biodiversity and farm-to-fork strategy are needed to reach the target of nutrient losses by 2030.  

Strategies need to address nitrogen and phosphorous reductions together in order to avoid imbalance and worsening of eutrophication conditions of EU marine waters. 

Reduction measures have more impact in coastal marine regions than in open sea areas. 

Climate change may lead to variations in hydrological conditions and could thus potentially counteract the impacts of policy measures. 

Target 5.

Reduce plastic litter at sea by 50 % and microplastics released into the environment by 30 % 




14 % reduction of plastic litter (in 8% of the basin surface of the Mediteranean Sea and 44 % of all beaches) with a total ban on single-use-plastic items. 

25 % reduction of plastic litter (in 50 % of the basin surface and 54 % of all beaches) with a total ban on plastic littering in the EU. 

Microplastic concentration in soils is expected to further increase (double by 2060 compared to 2019) due to the incorporation of sewage sludge. 

International collaboration and coordination are needed as only 24 % of all macrolitter originates from the EU. The EU cannot, by itself, achieve the zero pollution target in the Mediterranean Sea but could act as a role model for neighbouring regions. 

Target 6.

Significantly reduce total waste generation and residual municipal waste by 50 % 

target 6
Will be addressed in the next edition of the outlook report  



Key findings

  • Air pollution is responsible for disease and significant numbers of premature deaths (9 million premature deaths per year - one in six deaths worldwide).
  • Air quality limits are particularly exceeded in urban areas in the EU.
  • If all clean air measures were implemented, the number of premature deaths due to air pollution would fall by 66 % by 2030, i.e. the respective zero pollution target of 50 % would be achieved.
  • If all clean air measures were implemented, the area of EU ecosystems under threat from air pollution would only reduce by 20 % by 2030, i.e. the respective zero pollution target of 25% reduction would not be achieved.
  • Therefore; more stringent air pollution policies are needed to meet the target of reducing ecosystem areas under threat from air pollution by 25 %.
  • Clean air and biodiversity policies are strongly interlinked, and can mutually contribute to each other’s objectives.


Key findings

  • Pollution of all kinds oſten end up and accumulate in water bodies like rivers, streams, lakes, oceans.
  • Application of very ambitious measures can help reduce nitrogen and phosphorous inputs to marine ecosystems by 32 % and 17 %, respectively.
  • The natural N:P ratio should be preserved to avoid phytoplankton blooms.
  • Nutrient reduction measures have more impact in coastal marine regions than in open seas.
  • Reducing chemical pesticide use by 50 % translates into a decrease in marine concentration of between -56 % (shelf) and -12 % (open sea).
  • Hydrological variations brought about by climate change could counteract policy measures.
  • A total ban on single-use-plastic items in the EU would only reduce marine plastic litter only by 14 %.
  • A total ban on all plastic littering in the EU would reduce marine plastic litter by 25 %.
  • The EU cannot, by itself, achieve the zero pollution target in the Mediterranean Sea, i.e. cooperation between all Mediterranean neighbouring states and regions is needed


Key findings

  • Several potentially harmful substances occur naturally in soils.
  • Several potentially harmful substances are deliberately applied to soils (e.g. pesticides and landfills).
  • While soils can filter and transform pollutants, they can also accumulate them and become a potential source of pollution for other media.
  • More effi cient use of nutrients would help reduce their losses from soil to water and air.
  • The rate of excess nitrogen in agricultural lands (50 Kg per hectare) should decrease under the farm-to-fork strategy.
  • Soil erosion could lead to an increase of 6-11 % in phosphorous losses by 2050.
  • Mercury displacement rates could increase to 49-53 Mg annually if global emissions of mercury remain constant.
  • Concentrations of heavy metals in soils should not increase significantly if appropriate measures are taken.
  • Synthetic pesticide use should fall and agro-ecological practices should significantly increase if the farm to fork strategy target of 25 % organic farming is reached.
  • By 2019, 22 million tonnes (Mt) of plastics were introduced into the terrestrial environment, with a projection estimating that this figure will double to 44 Mt by 2060.
  • An estimated 62-84 thousand tonnes of microplastics are incorporated into soils through sewage sludge every year.

Nutrients outlook

Key findings

  • Nutrients are fundamental to growth, but excessive amounts lead to pollution.
  • Intensive agriculture and fossil fuel use have strongly altered the natural biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P).
  • Nutrient losses can be prevented by using techniques that transform N and P from organic waste into mineral fertilisers, or reducing the use of mineral N fertilisers in agricultural areas with N surplus.
  • EU policy instruments aim to reduce nutrient discharge (from domestic wastewaters), emissions (from agriculture) and inputs (from atmospheric deposition).
  • Different scenarios for the future of the agrofood system of Europe in 2050 can meet European food demand (under different diets), but are associated with differing environmental impacts.
  • Stronger targets for reducing food waste should further help reduce nutrient losses to the environment.
  • If all measures are implemented, the nutrient load in European seas could be reduced by about 30 % for N and 20 % for P.

Consumption footprint

Key findings

  • Although the environmental impacts of domestic EU consumption have decreased by 13 % over the past decade, the impacts of total EU consumption have increased by 4 % due to environmental impacts embedded in imported goods.
  • Current impacts have transgressed several planetary boundaries associated with emissions to the environment (air, water and soil).
  • The environmental impacts of EU consumption are projected to keep increasing until 2030.
  • While better than the business-as-usual scenario, the EU ambitions scenario shows no significant effect in reducing the impacts to the levels needed to remain within the planetary boundaries.
  • Further efforts are needed to ensure that EU production and consumption does not shiſt environmental burdens to third countries.

Transport noise

Key findings

  • In 2017, about 18 million people in the EU suffered from long-term high annoyance due to transport noise from road, rail and aircraſt sources.
  • There are no prospects of achieving the noise target (30 % reduction) by 2030, as projected population growth and transport outweighs the benefits of implementing the planned measures.
  • Road traffic is by far the most prevalent source of noise.
  • Projected growth in rail activity, new rail infrastructure and faster trains is likely to have negative health impacts due to increased noise.
  • Even with ambitious noise pollution reduction measures, a very high number of people will be exposed to harmful levels of aircraſt noise.


Key findings 

  • New drivers and sources of environmental pollution are likely to emerge in the future, as are opportunities to reduce the pollution burden of some sectors.
  • Digitalisation and virtual lifestyles may reduce physical consumption of goods and services.
  • Office workers are likely to eschew urban centres for more peripheral and rural areas.
  • New pollution-monitoring methods will improve the availability of accurate information on pollution.
  • Regenerative/living buildings could self-repair, even grow, provide food, and absorb pollution.
  • Regenerative agriculture, cellular agriculture and synthetic biology could reduce the use of chemical inputs and transport.


The first edition of the outlook report is published together with the European Environmental Agency's  first zero pollution monitoring report and an integrated Commission report on zero pollution monitoring and outlook (COM(2022)674) [link].

In October 2022, the Commission presented a zero pollution package for cleaner air and water which delivers on some of these actions. The proposals strengthen air quality standards, introduce new water pollutants standards and improve pollution reduction from urban wastewater treatment. The implementation of these initiatives will be essential to achieve the Zero Pollution Targets.

To find out more about the JRC's work on similar topics, explore the related JRC portfolios:

Father with small children working outdoors in garden, sustainable lifestyle concept.

Zero pollution for planetary health - Integrated responses.