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You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions / Sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions (APE 001) - Assessment published Dec 2012

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions (APE 001) - Assessment published Dec 2012

Indicator Assessment Created 26 Sep 2012 Published 20 Dec 2012 Last modified 04 Dec 2013, 04:45 PM

Generic metadata


Air pollution Air pollution (Primary topic)

Energy Energy

Environment and health Environment and health

air quality | csi | so2 | air pollution indicators | air emissions | sox | pollution
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)
Indicator codes
  • APE 001
Temporal coverage:
1990-2010, 2020
Geographic coverage:
EEA Member Countries (EEA32), Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, EU32, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom

Key policy question: What progress is being made in reducing emissions of SO2?

Key messages

    • EEA-32 emissions of sulphur oxides (SOX) have decreased by 75% between 1990 and 2010. In 2010, the most significant sectoral source of SOX emissions was 'Energy production and distribution' (57% of total emissions), followed by emissions occurring from 'Energy use in industry' (21%) and in the 'Commercial, institutional and households' (14%) sector.
    • 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 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 Union directives relating to the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels.
    • All of the EU-27 Member States have reduced their national SOX emissions below the level of the 2010 emission ceilings set in the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD)[1]. Emissions in 2010 for the three non-EU countries having emission ceilings set under the UNECE/CLRTAP Gothenburg protocol (Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) were also below the level of their respective 2010 ceilings.
    • 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 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 emissions also aggravate asthma conditions and can reduce lung function and inflame the respiratory tract, and contribute as a secondary particulate pollutant to formation of particulate matter in the atmosphere, an important air pollutant in terms of its adverse impact on human health. Further, the formation of sulphate particles in the atmosphere after its release results in reflection of solar radiation, which leads to net cooling of the atmosphere.

[1] Emissions data reported by EU member states under NECD is used for comparison with NECD ceilings, and data reported under CLRTAP is used for all other calculations unless otherwise stated.

Change in emissions of sulphur oxides compared with the 2010 NECD and Gothenburg protocol targets (EEA member countries)

Note: The reported change in sulphur oxide emissions (SOx) for each country, 1990-2010, in comparison with the 2010 NECD and Gothenburg protocol targets.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Distance-to-target for EEA member countries

Note: The distance-to-target indicator shows how current NMVOC emissions compare to a linear emission reduction 'target-path' between 2010 emission levels and the 2020 emission ceiling for each country. Negative percentage values indicate the current emissions in a country are below the linear target path; positive values show that current emission lie above a linear target path to 2020.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Key assessment

Significant progress in reducing SOX emissions has been made by many countries; EEA-32 emissions of SOX have decreased by 75% between 1990 and 2010. Within the EEA-32 group of countries, all have reported lower emissions in 2010 compared to 1990 except Iceland (3.6 times greater), Hungary (3.4 times greater) and Turkey (2.0 times greater). The large apparent magnitudes of these increases in Turkey and Hungary are due to the inclusion in 2010 reports of emissions from sectors which were not reported in 1990; for example, only 'Industrial processes' emissions are reported in CRF data from Hungary in 1990, whilst in 2010 LRTAP submissions emissions are reported in the majority of sectors.

The large increase in SOX emissions in Iceland, from 20 kt in 1990 to 72 kt in 2010, is due chiefly to the reported emissions from the 'Energy production and distribution' sector rising by 45 kt since 1990. This sector alone now contributes 14% of Iceland's total emissions in 2010. These emissions are mostly comprised of emissions from activities related to fugitive emissions from the 'other energy extraction' sector, which includes geothermal energy production, many of these would occur naturally but are included in Iceland's emission total due to their use in energy generation.

All of the EU-27 Member States have reduced their national SOX emissions below the level of the 2010 emission ceilings set in the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD).

Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey are not members of the European Union and hence have no emission ceilings set under the NECD. However, Norway and Switzerland have ratified the UNECE LRTAP Convention's Gothenburg Protocol, requiring them to reduce their emissions to the agreed ceiling specified in the protocol by 2010. Liechtenstein has also signed, but not ratified the protocol. All three countries have reported that emissions in 2010 were lower than their respective 2010 Gothenburg Protocol ceilings.

The NECD protocol is currently being reviewed, as part of the implementation of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, but a proposal for a revised directive is presently on hold until 2013. A revision of the Gothenburg protocol was published in June 2012, and proposed percentage emission reductions from 2005 levels to be met by 2020 for the four already regulated substances (NOX, NMVOC, SO2 and NH3) and in addition for primary emissions of PM2.5. Existing emission ceilings for 2010 have been extended to 2020 such that all countries have additional obligations to maintain emission levels below their 2010 ceilings, or to further reduce emissions if they have not yet met these ceilings.

Eight of the EU-27 Member States have already met the 2020 targets proposed under the Gothenburg protocol, and all of the remaining countries except four (Lithuania, Finland, Estonia and Sweden) are on track to reduce emissions to their ceiling by or before 2020.

Of the five non-EU countries within the EEA-32, only Norway and Switzerland have 2020 targets proposed under the Gothenburg protocol. Both of these countries reported emissions in 2010 which were lower than their 2020 emission ceilings.

Specific policy question: How do different sectors and processes contribute to emissions of SO2?

Sector share of sulphur oxides emissions - 2010 (EEA member countries)

Note: The contribution made by different sectors to emissions of sulphur dioxide

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Change in sulphur oxides emissions for each sector between 1990 and 2010 (EEA member countries)

Note: Percentage change in sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions for each sector between 1990 and 2010.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Contribution to total change in sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions for each sector between 1990 and 2010 (EEA member countries)

Note: The contribution made by each sector to the total change in sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions between 1990 and 2010.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Specific assessment

Substantial SOX emission reductions have been made across a number of sectors including: 'Road transport' (a 99% reduction between 1990 and 2010), 'Waste' (81%), 'Energy production and distribution' (75%) and 'Energy use in industry' (66%).

The 'Energy production and distribution' sector (encompassing activities such as power and heat generation) is responsible for the largest reduction in absolute terms of emissions, contributing 57% of the total reduction in SOX emissions reported by countries. Nevertheless, despite this significant reduction, this single sector remains the most significant source of SOX in the EEA-32 region, contributing over half of total SOX emissions. Across Europe there is also an increasing awareness of the contribution made to SOX emissions by national and international ship traffic, and especially the health effects of such emissions whilst at berth (a more detailed discussion of this issue is contained in the TERM indicator fact sheet TERM03 - Transport emissions of air pollutants). From 1st January 2010 all ships using fuel at berth in EU ports for significant periods were required to use exclusively low-sulphur fuel (0.1%), and from 1st July 2010, within SECAs (Sulphur Emission Control Areas) defined in the North Sea, English Channel and Baltic Sea, all ships were required to use fuel with sulphur content not exceeding 1.0%. EEA32 countries have reported a reduction in emissions from national navigation (shipping) of 9.5% between 2009 and 2010, and further reductions in later years may be expected as additional legislation comes into force.

A combination of measures has led to the reductions in SOX emissions. This includes fuel-switching 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, 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 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 have 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.

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Martin Adams


EEA Management Plan

2012 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year in October-December (Q4)
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100