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You are here: Home / News / Europe to exceed air pollutant emission limits – NOx in particular

Europe to exceed air pollutant emission limits – NOx in particular

In 2010, around half of the European Union's Member States expect to miss one or more of the legal limits set by the National Emission Ceilings Directive. According to recent data compiled by the European Environment Agency (EEA), 11 countries expect to exceed their ceilings by significant amounts — some missing NOx targets by more than 40 %.

Of the four pollutants covered by the NEC Directive, EU Member States have the greatest difficulty meeting the emission limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx). Only 16 expect to achieve their respective NOx ceilings, with road transport bearing most of the blame. The road transport sector contributed around 40 % of total EU-27 NOx emissions in 2008 and although its overall emissions have decreased since 1990, the reduction has not always been as large as originally anticipated. This is partly because the sector has grown more than expected and partly because vehicle emission standards have not always delivered the foreseen level of NOx reductions.

Several Member States, including Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, expect to exceed their respective NOx ceilings by small margins (less than 5 %). In contrast, France and Spain expect to exceed their ceilings by 261 kilotonnes and 236 kilotonnes respectively — equivalent to surpluses of 32 % and 28 %. Other countries, expecting lower surpluses in absolute terms, would exceed their limits by even larger margins, notably Austria (42 %), Belgium (43 %) and Ireland (47 %).

Overview of "with measure" projections (1) as reported by the EU-27 Member States in December 2009

An EEA technical report and the final dataset will be published later in 2010 documenting in more detail the NEC Directive data reported recently by Member States. The preliminary reported 2008 emissions and 2010 projections data used for this analysis are currently available.

Member State

NOX

NMVOC

SO2

NH3

Austria

X

x

Belgium

X

Bulgaria

Cyprus

Czech Republic

Denmark

Estonia

Finland

France

X

Germany

x

X

Greece

Hungary

Ireland

X

Italy

Latvia

Lithuania

Luxembourg

X

Malta

X

X

Netherlands

x

Poland

Portugal

x

Romania

Slovakia

Slovenia

x

Spain

X

X

x

Sweden

x

United Kingdom

x

16

24

26

24

x

11

3

1

3

A '√' indicates that the Member State anticipates meeting its emission ceiling for a pollutant, while 'x' indicates that a ceiling is expected to be exceeded. The larger 'X' indicates those instances where a Member State anticipates exceeding its ceiling by more than 10 %, the smaller 'x' denotes exceedances of less than 10 %.

(1)    Member State emission ceilings are compared against reported 'with measures' (WM) projections. WM projections take into account currently implemented and adopted policies and measures. Where Member States have instead reported only 'business as usual' (BAU) projections, it is assumed for comparison with the ceilings that these are equivalent to a WM projection. Not all Member States have fully incorporated the effects of the recession into their projections for 2010. For these countries, decreased economic activity may improve the chances of meeting their obligations.

What does the NEC Directive cover?

The EU NEC Directive sets pollutant-specific and legally binding emission ceilings (limits) for four main air pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3). These pollutants harm both human health and the environment by contributing to the formation of ozone and particulate matter and leading to acidification and eutrophication. Member States must meet the NEC Directive’s ceilings by 2010 in order to deliver the originally agreed health and environmental benefits.

What next?

The Thematic Strategy on Air (TSAP) adopted by the Commission in 2005 lists a revision of the NEC Directive as an important action to achieve the health and environmental targets of the TSAP by 2020. This revision is expected to propose stricter emission ceilings for 2020 in order to protect health and the environment further. It could also, for the first time, introduce a ceiling for fine particulate matter (PM2.5). In the absence of new legislation, however, the NEC Directive remains in force and requires that future emissions stay below national ceilings after 2010.

More information

Last year's report and the dataset for the NEC Directive are available at EEA Technical report No 11/2009: NEC Directive status report 2008 and NEC data viewer.

For additional information on air pollution and transport, please see the EEA's TERM report.          

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