EU Environmental Noise Report

The European Commission wants to realign the increasingly divergent approaches being taken by Member States in implementing the EU’s environmental noise pollution rules.

This is one of the main conclusions of a report, presented by the European Commission last week, on the EU Member States’ implementation noise rules.
In addition to examining the implementation of some key provisions of the Environmental Noise Directive, the report also proposes a number of actions to improve environmental noise protection.

Transposition of the Directive

The Environmental Noise Directive was adopted in 2002. Its principal aim is to reduce the harmful effects of environmental noise, including annoyance.The recently published report points out that initially, fourteen EU Member States did not respect the deadline for transposing the Directive (i.e., enacting, in national law, the Directive’s requirements), set for 18 July 2004. By 2007, however, all Member States had transposed the Directive.

Implementation of the Directive

Noise Limit Values

According to the Commission report, Member States have taken different legal approaches with regards to noise limit values. Some of them have established legally binding noise limits, while others have only set voluntary guidelines. The report highlights the fact that many countries did not take necessary measures to control noise pollution. In addition, the noise limit values set by the Member States have often been violated.

Noise Assessment

Member States provided the Commission with information on their major roads, railways, airports and agglomerations as well as on the number of people exposed to noise. According to the assessment that was carried out, 40 million people across the EU are exposed to noise above 50 dB from roads within agglomerations during the night, while more than 25 million people are exposed to noise at the same level from major roads outside agglomerations.

Harmonised Noise Assessment Methods

The Commission has not set out common noise assessment methods yet, as the Directive did not set a particular deadline for this matter. As a result, the methods that have so far been used to assess noise pollution diverge. The Commission announced the development of harmonised assessment methods in 2008.

Action Plans, Quiet Areas and Public Information

According to the report, 20 Member States out of 27 have sent the Commission their action plans with regard to the management of noise pollution, including the protection of quiet areas in agglomerations. This information however has been fragmented. In order to ensure that the public is informed of these action plans, the Commission published the related reports of around 80% of Member States on the Reportnet website.

Assessing the Directive

The report presents a number of benefits achieved after implementing the Environmental Noise Directive: 
• All Member States have now developed an environmental noise management system
• The area of assessing the noise pollution in Member States has been improved
• Progress has been made with regard to a more harmonised system of ''strategic noise mapping'', including common noise indicators and  noise data lists
• Action plans have led to the identification of the most important sources of noise pollution as well as of the lack of EU legislation in some of these fields (vehicles, railways, aircrafts)

Improving Protection Against Noise Pollution

The report outlines the most principal areas of the Environmental Noise Directive that should be further improved:

Harmonising noise pollution assessment methods

The Report underlines the problem of divergent methods of data collection used by Member States in order to assess the number of people being exposed to noise pollution. All these different national methods have led to less comparable results.

In order to create a more harmonised framework through the EU Member States, the Commission launched in 2008 a project entitled "CNOSSOS-EU" (Common Noise Assessment Methods in Europe) that will provide the technical basis for preparing a Commission Implementing Decision.

Guidance documents and technical definitions

As many issues were not precisely defined in the Directive, the Commission intends to provide Member States with guidance documents on noise mapping and best practices, calculation of multiple exposures to noise pollution, noise limit values and the creation of action plans. Terms such as agglomerations, quiet areas, major roads, industrial noise and action plans should also be further clarified.

Coordination between air quality and noise management

The report suggests that Member States should establish their action plans by including both air quality and noise management targets.

A simple reporting system

Since the current Environmental Noise Directive provides for a complex system of several reports made by the Member States, the Report opts for the creation of a more simple system, including electronic reporting.

Noise limits on a European Level

In order to set out noise limits on a European level, the report presents different policy options such as the EU minimum requirements or EU recommendations, pointing out that EU mandatory noise limits would restrict the ability of Member States to adopt their policy based on their particular national conditions.

Noise indicators

The report highlights that up to now the noise limit values used in order to assess noise pollution do not take into account the fact that even lower levels of noise pollution can provoke harmful effects. In fact, the report presents the recommendations of the WHO, according to which noise limit values should be lowered to 40dB.

Enforcement of the Directive

The report also highlights that in order to achieve a higher level of efficiency, efforts should be made to adopt a better enforcement regime, including the imposition of penalties in case that national legally binding noise limits are not respected. This enforcement regime should be based on the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity.

Next Steps

The Commission intends to adopt an Implementing Decision in early 2012 with the aim of creating a more harmonised framework on noise pollution assessment methods. This Decision would possibly amend Annex II of the Environmental Noise Directive, following the Committee opinion that would take place in 2011.

In addition, the Commission announces in the Implementation Report that it will propose a joint Commission/European Environmental Agency/Member States work programme for the implementation of the "CNOSSOS-EU" project during 2012-2015 with the aim of applying it in the third reporting cycle in 2017