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Emission trends of sulphur dioxide SO2

Indicator Fact Sheet (Deprecated)
Topics: ,

Assessment made on  01 Dec 2005

Generic metadata


Air pollution Air pollution (Primary theme)

DPSIR: Pressure


Indicator codes
  • APE 001
Geographic coverage:

Policy issue:  Are we reaching emission targets for acidifying substances?

Key messages

    • EEA-32 emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) have decreased by 66% between 1990 and 2005. In 2005, the most significant source of SO2 emissions was the energy industries sector (41%), followed by emissions occurring from industrial processes (35%) and industrial energy use (13%).
    • The reduction in emissions since 1990 has been achieved as a result of a combination of measures, including fuel-switching in energy-related sectors away from high sulphur-containing solid and liquid fuels to low sulphur fuels such as natural gas, the fitting of flue gas desulphurisation abatement technology in industrial facilities and the impact of European Community directives relating to the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels.
    • Thirteen of the EU-27 Member States have already reduced their national SO2 emissions below the level of the emission ceilings set in the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD), while a number of others are close to meeting their ceilings. However, a small number of Member States still need to make significant further reductions in order to meet their respective ceilings under the NECD.
    • Environmental context: Sulphur dioxide is emitted when fuels containing sulphur are combusted. It is a pollutant which contributes to acid deposition which in turn can lead to potential changes occurring in soil and water quality. The subsequent impacts of acid deposition can be significant, including adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems in rivers and lakes and damage to forests, crops and other vegetation. SO2 emission also contributes to formation of particulate matter in the atmosphere, an important air pollutant in terms of its adverse impact on human health.


Key assessment

EEA-32 emissions of SO2 have decreased by 66% between 1990 and 2005. Substantial emission reductions have been made across a number of sectors including: road transport (84% reduction between 1990 and 2005), "other energy" (74%), "industry energy" (68%) and "energy industries" (65% between 1990 and 2005).

The "energy industries" sector (encompassing activities such as power and heat generation) is responsible for the largest reduction (in absolute terms) of emissions, contributing more than 60% of the total reduction in SO2 emissions reported by countries. Nevertheless, despite this significant reduction, this single sector remains the most significant source of SO2 in the EEA-32 region. Across Europe there is also an increasing awareness of the contribution made to SO2 pollutant emissions by national and international ship traffic (a more detailed discussion of this issue is contained in the TERM indicator fact sheet TERM03 - Transport emissions of air pollutants).

A combination of measures has led to the reductions in SO2 emissions. This includes fuelswitching from high-sulphur solid (e.g. coal) and liquid (e.g. heavy fuel oil) fuels to low sulphur fuels (such as natural gas) for power and heat production purposes within the "energy industries", industry and domestic sectors, improvements in energy efficiency and the installation of flue gas desulphurisation equipment in new and existing industrial facilities. The implementation of several directives within the EU limiting the sulphur content of fuel quality has also contributed to the decrease.

The newer Member States of the European Union have in a number of cases also undergone significant economic structural changes since the early 1990s which has led to a general decline in certain activities which previously contributed significantly to high levels of sulphur emissions e.g. heavy industry and the closure of older inefficient power plants.

Within the EEA-32 group of countries, all have reported lower emissions in 2005 compared to 1990 except Greece (+9%), Cyprus (+16%) and Turkey (75%).

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