Energy-related emissions of acidifying substances
Justification for indicator selection
Energy production and use accounts for the majority of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions, but only a small fraction of ammonia (NH3) emissions. These pollutants all contribute to acid deposition. Acidification is caused by emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ammonia into the atmosphere, and their subsequent chemical reactions and deposition on ecosystems and materials (see also EEA 2008). Deposition of acidifying substances causes damage to ecosystems, buildings and materials (corrosion). The adverse effect associated with each individual pollutant depends on its potential to acidify and the individual properties of the ecosystems and materials. The deposition of acidifying substance still often exceeds the critical loads of the ecosystems across Europe. Efforts to reduce the effects of acidification are therefore focused on reducing the emissions of acidifying substances. NOx and SO2 can react in the atmosphere and transform into small-diameter particulate matter which when inhaled, can have direct or indirect impacts on human health causing harmful effects such as respiratory problems. See EN07 for more information about energy-related particulate emissions. NOx is also a tropospheric ozone precursor that reacts in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight to form ozone which, in high concentrations, can lead to significant health impacts and damage to crops and other vegetation (see also EN05). Furthermore, an excessive input of nitrogen nutrients from atmospheric deposition or via run-off following atmospheric deposition can lead to eutrophication of waters.
- No rationale references available
Emissions of SO2 and NOx (also NH3 where applicable) in 1000 tonnes.
Policy context and targets
Several EU-wide emissions limits and targets exist for the reduction of total SO2, NOx and NH3 emissions, including the National Emissions Ceiling Directive (NECD; 2001/81/EC) and the UNECE LRTAP Convention Gothenburg Protocol under UNECE LRTAP Convention (UNECE 1999). This indicator provides relevant information for assessing the achievement of these targets and also for analyses performed within the European Commission’s Clean Air for Europe programme (CAFE). This thematic strategy on air quality was released in September 2005 (The CAFE Programme/implementation of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/cafe/index.htm).
The NEC Directive includes emission reduction targets that are slightly stricter than the targets set in the Gothenburg Protocol and requires the introduction of national emission ceilings for emissions of SO2, NOx and NH3 (and also for NMVOCs) in each Member State, as well as setting interim environmental objectives for reducing the exposure of ecosystems and human populations to damaging levels of the acid pollutants. Targets for the new Member States are temporary and are without prejudice to the on-going review of the NECD. A proposal for a revised NEC Directive (which will set 2020 emission ceiling targets for these acidifying pollutants), is expected in 2013. Targets for Bulgaria and Romania are provisional and not binding. Hence, the existing EU25 NECD Target has been used in the following analysis.
In terms of the energy sector, the most relevant NEC Directive targets for the EU-25 (exclude Romania and Bulgaria) as a whole are:
- SO2: emissions reduction of 74 % by 2010 from 1990 levels
- NOx: emissions reduction of 53 % by 2010 from 1990 levels
- NH3 emissions are also an important source of acid deposition and have an emissions target under NEC (emissions reduction target of 15 % by 2010 from 1990 levels), but energy-related emissions of ammonia are insignificant, accounting for only 2.5 % of total EU-27 ammonia emissions in 2005. Agriculture is by far the largest contributing sector to EU ammonia emissions
- Other key policies that have contributed to the reduction of acidifying emissions across Europe include:
- The Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive (96/61/EC), which entered into force in 1999. It aims to prevent or minimise pollution of water, air and soil by industrial effluent and other waste from industrial installations, including energy industries, by defining basic obligations for operating licences or permits and by introducing targets, or benchmarks, for energy efficiency. It requires the application of Best Available Techniques in new installations (and for existing plants over 10 years, according to national legislation).
- The Large Combustion Plant Directive (2001/80/EC) is important in reducing emissions of SO2, NOx and dust from combustion plants with a thermal capacity greater than 50 MW. The Directive sets emission limits for licensing of new plants and requires Member States to establish programmes for reducing total emissions. Emissions limits for all plants are also set under the IPPC Directive.
Emissions of NOx, SOx and NH3 are covered by the NECD and the Gothenburg Protocol to the UNECE LRTAP Convention. Both instruments contain emission ceilings (limits) that countries must meet by 2010. See CSI001
Related policy documents
Council Directive 96/61/EC (IPPC)
Council Directive 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC). Official Journal L 257.
Directive 2001/80/EC, large combustion plants
Directive 2001/80/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2001 on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants
Directive 2001/81/EC, national emission ceilings
Directive 2001/81/EC, on nation al emissions ceilings (NECD) for certain atmospheric pollutants. Emission reduction targets for the new EU10 Member States have been specified in the Treaty of Accession to the European Union 2003 [The Treaty of Accession 2003 of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia. AA2003/ACT/Annex II/en 2072] in order that they can comply with the NECD.
UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution
UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.
Methodology for indicator calculation
Indicator is based on officially reported national total and sectoral emissions to UNECE/EMEP (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe/Co-operative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe) Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP Convention), submission 2010. Recommended methodologies for emission inventory estimation are compiled in the EMEP/CORINAIR Atmospheric Emission Inventory guidebook, EEA Copenhagen (EEA, 2009). Base data are available from the EEA Data Service (http://www.ceip.at/). Where necessary, gaps in reported data are filled by ETC/ACC using simple interpolation techniques (see below). The final gap-filled data used in this indicator is available from the EEA Data Service ( ).) and the EMEP web site (
Base data, reported in NFR are aggregated into the following EEA sector codes to obtain a common reporting format across all countries and pollutants:
- Energy production and distribution: emissions from public heat and electricity generation, oil refining, production of solid fuels, extraction and distribution of solid fossil fuels and geothermal energy;
- Energy use in industry: emissions from combustion processes used in the manufacturing industry including boilers, gas turbines and stationary engines;
- Industrial processes: emissions derived from non-combustion related processes such as the production of minerals, chemicals and metal production;
- Road transport: light and heavy duty vehicles, passenger cars and motorcycles;
- Non-road transport: railways, domestic shipping, certain aircraft movements, and non-road mobile machinery used in agriculture & forestry;
- Commercial, institutional and households: emissions principally occurring from fuel combustion in the services and household sectors;
- Solvent and product use: non-combustion related emissions mainly in the services and households sectors including activities such as paint application, dry-cleaning and other use of solvents;
- Agriculture: manure management, fertiliser application, field-burning of agricultural wastes
- Waste: incineration, waste-water management;
- Other: emissions included in national total for entire territory not allocated to any other sector
The following table shows the conversion of Nomenclature for Reporting (NFR) sector codes used for reporting by countries into EEA sector codes:
|EEA classification||Non-GHGs (NFR)||GHG (CRF)|
|National totals||National total||National totals without LUCF|
|Energy production and distribution||1A1, 1A3e, 1B||1A1|
|Energy use in industry||1A2||1A2|
|Non-road transport (non-road mobile machinery)||1A3 (exl 1A3b)||1A3a, 1A3c, 1A3d, 1A3e|
|Solvent and product use||3|
|Commercial, institutional and households||1A4ai, 1A4aii, 1A4bi, 1A4bii, 1A4ci, 1A4cii, 1A5a, 1A5b||1A4, 1A5|
|Other||7||3 + 7|
Methodology for gap filling
An improved gap-filling methodology used in compiling this year's EU‑27 emission inventory means that for the first time a complete EU‑27 time series trend for the main air pollutants (NOx, SOx, NMVOC, NH3 and CO) can be reported to the LRTAP Convention. For the remaining pollutants, one or more Member States did not report emissions for any year meaning that gap-filling could not be applied. For these pollutants, therefore, the aggregated EU data are not yet complete and are likely to underestimate true emissions. See section 1.4.2 Data gaps and gap-filling in European Union emission inventory report 1990 — 2008 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)
No methodology references available.
EEA data references
- EEA aggregated and gap filled air pollutant data (discontinued) provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
- National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive Inventory provided by Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV)
Data sources in latest figures
Officially reported data following agreed procedures and Emission Inventory Guidebook (EEA 2009), e.g. regarding source sector split. The incomplete reporting and resultant extrapolation may obscure some trends.
Data sets uncertainty
The uncertainties of total sulphur dioxide emission estimates in Europe are relatively low, as the sulphur emitted mainly comes from the fuel burnt and therefore can be accurately estimated. However, because of the need for interpolation to account for missing data the complete dataset used here will have higher uncertainty. EMEP has compared modelled (which include emission data as one of the model parameters) and measured concentrations throughout Europe (EMEP 2005). From these studies the uncertainties associated with the modelled annual averages for a specific point in time have been estimated in the order of ± 30 %. This is consistent with an inventory uncertainty of ±10 % (with additional uncertainties arising from the other model parameters, modelling methodologies, and the air quality measurement data etc). In contrast, NOx emission estimates in Europe are thought to have higher uncertainty, as the NOx emitted comes both from the fuel burnt and the combustion air and so cannot be estimated accurately from fuel nitrogen alone. EMEP has compared modelled and measured concentrations throughout Europe (EMEP 2005). From these studies differences for individual monitoring stations of more than a factor of two have been found. This is consistent with an inventory of national annual emissions having an uncertainty of ±30% or greater (there are also uncertainties in the air quality measurements and especially the modelling). For some countries, reported time-series emissions data may be inconsistent. This may occur where for example different inventory reporting definitions have been used in different years and/or where changes made to estimation methodologies have not been applied back to 1990. For all emissions the trend is likely to be much more accurate than individual absolute annual values - the annual values are not independent of each other.
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoCinzia Pastorello
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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