Emissions of air pollutants from transport
- Between 1990 and 2013, the transport sector achieved some significant reductions in the emissions of major air pollutants: carbon monoxide (CO) and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) (both around 83 %), nitrogen oxides (NOx) (35%), sulphur oxide (SOx) (36%) and particulate matter (35 % in the case of PM2.5 and 27 % for PM10).
- Emissions of all pollutants decreased in 2013 compared with the previous year. NOx emissions decreased by 5 %, SOx by 12 %, and PM10 and PM2.5 by 9 % and 10 % respectively. The latest data shows that non-exhaust emissions of primary PM10 and PM2.5 make up 27 % and 16 % of total transport emissions of these pollutants, respectively.
- All transport modes have experienced a decrease in emissions since 1990, except for international aviation and shipping for which emissions of each pollutant have increased. Also, ammonia (NH3) emissions from road transport have increased following the introduction of three-way catalytic converters on road vehicles, from which NH3 is released as a byproduct.
Are emissions of acidifying substances, particulates and ozone precursors from transport decreasing?
Significant progress has been made since 1990 in reducing the emissions of many air pollutants from the transport sector.
The relative changes in emissions of pollutants from the transport sectors are shown in the above figures. Emissions from all transport sectors have declined since 1990 despite the general increase in activity within the sector since this time. Between 1990 and 2013, emissions of NOx from transport reduced by 35 %, PM2.5 by 35 %, SOx by 36 %, CO by 82 % and NMVOCs by 83 % across the EEA-33.
The scale of policy actions undertaken in Europe to specifically address transport-related air pollution have increased over recent years. Local and regional air quality management plans, including initiatives such as low-emission zones in cities or congestion charges, are now undertaken in areas of high air pollution from transport. The different European legal mechanisms for addressing air quality related to traffic comprise the setting of limit or target values for ambient concentrations of pollutants; limits on total emissions (e.g. national totals); and regulating emissions from the traffic sector either by setting emissions standards (like EURO 1-6) or by setting requirements for fuel quality.
Reductions achieved in the road transport sector are responsible for the vast majority of the overall reductions for each pollutant, as shown in the figures above. In contrast, since 1990, international aviation and shipping (SOx excepted for the latter) are the only transport sub-sectors where emissions of each pollutant have actually increased, while NH3 emissions from road transport have also increased. For example, NOx emissions from international aviation have more than doubled (+116 %) since 1990, while NOx and NMVOC emissions from international shipping have both increased by around 20 % and 24 %, respectively, and PM2.5 by 7 %. As emissions of pollutants such as NOx and SOx from land-based sources decrease, there is a growing awareness of the increasingly important contribution made to Europe's air quality by the national and international shipping sectors, which now are responsible for 19 % and 26 % of NOx and SOx emissions, respectively.
Transport is responsible for more than half of all NOx emissions, and contributes significantly (around 15 % or more) to the total emissions of the other pollutants. Road transport, in particular, makes a significant contribution to emissions of all the main air pollutants (with the exception of SOx). While emissions from road transport are mostly exhaust emissions arising from fuel combustion, non-exhaust releases contribute to both NMVOCs (from fuel evaporation) and primary PM (from tyre- and brake-wear, and road abrasion). While emissions of primary PM2.5 from road transport have declined since 1990 (by 50 %), the relative importance of non-exhaust emissions has increased, since the introduction of vehicle particulate abatement technologies has reduced exhaust emissions. In 2013, the non-exhaust emissions of PM2.5 constituted 33 % of the emissions from the road transport sector, compared to just 11 % in 1990 (for PM10 the contribution increased from 20 % in 1990 to 49 % in 2013).
Indicator specification and metadata
This indicator is based on the emissions trend assessment of CO, NOx, NMVOCs, SOx and primary particulates.
Emissions are expressed as the percentage over 1990 levels.
Policy context and targets
Directive 2008/50/EC (EC, 2008) sets limit values for the atmospheric concentrations of the main pollutants, including sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), airborne particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), lead, carbon monoxide (CO), benzene, and ozone (O3) for EU Member States. These limits are related to transport implicitly, but the introduction of progressively stricter Euro emissions standards and fuel quality standards has led to substantial reductions in air pollutant emissions. Policies aimed at reducing fuel consumption in the transport sector, in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions, may also help to further reduce air pollutant emissions.
Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey are not members of the European Union and hence have no emissions ceilings set under the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD) 2001/81/EC. As well as most of the EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland have ratified the 1999 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (UNECE Trend in emissions of air pollutants from transport in EEA-33 LRTAP) Gothenburg Protocol, which required them to reduce their emissions to the agreed ceiling specified in the protocol by 2010. Liechtenstein has also signed, but has not ratified the protocol.
Both the NECD and the Gothenburg protocol set reductions targets for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and non-methane volatile organic compounds and ammonia for the EEA-33 member countries. There are substantial differences in emissions ceilings, and hence emissions reduction percentages for different countries, due to the different sensitivities of the ecosystems affected and the technical feasibility of making reductions.
Related policy documents
1999 Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone
Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution 1999 Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone, amended on 4 May 2012.
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 98/70/EC, quality of petrol and diesel fuels
Directive 98/70/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 October 1998 relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and amending Directive 93/12/EEC
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.
Methodology for indicator calculation
For air pollutants, officially reported data to EMEP/LRTAP have been used. Please refer to indicators CSI002 and CSI003
Methodology for gap filling
Where a complete time series of emissions data has not been reported, data have been gap-filled according to EEA ETC/ACC methodologies. Details of the gap-filling procedure for the air pollutant data set are described in the European Union emissions inventory report 1990–2008 under the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) (EEA Technical Report No 7/2010).
- EC emission inventory report European Community emission inventory report 1990-2008 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) , EEA Technical report No 7/2010.
Interpolation/extrapolation procedures are used for gap-filling of the underlying emissions dataset.
Data sets uncertainty
The quantification of uncertainty in the European Union LRTAP emissions inventory requires that Member States provide detailed underpinning information on emissions uncertainties.
No uncertainty has been specified
National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive Inventory
provided by Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV)
National emissions reported to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP Convention)
provided by United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
Air Emission data set for Indicators
provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
Transport (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- TERM 003
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoCinzia Pastorello
EEA Management Plan2015 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
- 12 Dec 2014 - Emissions of air pollutants from transport
- 04 Feb 2013 - Emissions of air pollutants from transport
- 12 Jan 2011 - Emissions of air pollutants from transport
- 14 Sep 2010 - Transport emissions of air pollutants
- 21 Apr 2009 - Transport emissions of air pollutants
- 28 Sep 2006 - Transport emissions of air pollutants (CO, NH3, NOx, NMVOC, PM10, SOx) by mode
- 28 Nov 2005 - Transport emissions of air pollutants (CO, NH3, NOx, NMVOC, PM10, SOx) by mode
- 28 Sep 2004 - Transport emissions of air pollutants (CO, NH3, NOx, NMVOC, PM10, SOx) by mode
- 28 Sep 2003 - Transport emissions of air pollutants (CO, NH3, NOx, NMVOC, PM10, SOx) by mode
- 01 Jun 2001 - Transport emissions of air pollutants
- 01 Jun 2001 - Transport emissions of air pollutants TERM 2001
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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