The unintended consequences of EU law and policy on air pollution

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Air pollution still represents a major environmental hazard in urban areas in the European Union (EU). This article argues that the EU’s regulatory framework in this policy area for the past decade contributed to a series of unintended consequences. The increasing influence of climate change objectives on the air pollution agenda led to a shift in the regulatory approach to emissions from vehicles by focusing solely on the overriding interest of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and developing individual policies to that effect. This resulted in a disconnect between regulatory approaches to urban air quality and vehicle emissions standards with the effect of producing unintended consequences of unlawful levels of air pollution, in particular nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions as well as unintended consequences for the car industry and consumers. The article applies Merton’s framework of unintended consequences, which provides a useful explanatory model of the EU’s multi-level governance process in the complex area of environmental law.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-265
JournalReview of European, Comparative and International Environmental Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2017


  • air pollution
  • EU law and policy
  • unintended consequences


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