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Air pollution

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Air pollution harms human health and the environment. In Europe, emissions of many air pollutants have decreased substantially over the past decades, resulting in improved air quality across the region. However, air pollutant concentrations are still too high, and air quality problems persist. A significant proportion of Europe’s population live in areas, especially cities, where exceedances of air quality standards occur. More

Key facts and messages
Land and ocean sinks have taken up more than half of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since 1800, but these natural sinks are vulnerable to climate and land-use change and are highly likely to take up less CO2 in future. more
The EU emitted close to 5 billion tonnes (Gt) of CO2-equivalents in 2008. It contributes today around 12 % of annual global anthropogenic direct greenhouse gas emissions. more
The greenhouse gas emission reductions observed in Europe over the last two decades are a combined result of the economic restructuring that occurred mainly in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, the policies and measures implemented to reduce greenhouse... more
EEA member countries collectively reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 7.5 % and per capita emissions from 10.9 to 9.3 tonnes CO2-equivalent between 1990 and 2008. more
The reduction of ozone-depleting substances under the UNEP Montreal Protocol has also resulted in greenhouse gas emissions cuts significantly larger than the emission reductions that will take place under the Kyoto Protocol until 2012. more
Scientific studies show that global greenhouse gas emissions should not exceed 44 to 46 Gt CO2-equivalents per year by 2020 in order to give a 50 % chance of limiting global mean temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The... more
The EU is making good progress towards achieving its emission reduction targets. In the EU-27, which has set an independent target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 % by 2020 as compared to 1990 levels, emissions were 11.3 %... more
Air pollution damages human health and the environment. Considerable progress has been made in Europe to reduce emissions and exposure to different air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lead (Pb). However, despite reductions, certain... more
As the amounts of acidifying air pollutants have fallen, the area of acid-sensitive ecosystems (such as freshwaters and forest soils) adversely affected in Europe has considerably reduced. Nonetheless, biological recovery in freshwaters is slow.... more
European air pollutant concentrations still frequently exceed limit values set by the EU Air Quality Directives. Many Member States have either not complied, or will not comply by the required target dates, with legally-binding air quality limits... more
Only 14 European countries expect to comply with national 2010 emission ceilings for four pollutants (NOx, NMVOC, SO2 and NH3) set under EU and international legislation. The ceiling for nitrogen oxides (NOx) remains by far the most difficult... more
As European emissions decrease, there is increasing recognition of the importance of inter-continental transport of air pollutants and its contribution to poor air quality in Europe. This contribution is particularly large for ozone, persistent... more
Air pollution and climate change share common sources of emissions – primarily from fuel combustion in industry and households, transport and agriculture. A number of air pollutants contribute to changes in atmospheric radiative forcing. Many... more
Cities, due to the high concentration of people and activities, deliver and demand goods and services that impact their own areas and regions far away. While cities in Europe contribute 69 % of the continent's CO2 emissions, an urban resident... more
11 countries exceeded the 2010 'ceilings' for the four important air pollutants regulated under the LRTAP Protocol: NOx, NMVOC, SOx and NH. These pollutants can lead to breathing problems, acid rain and eutrophication. more
There were 12.8 million new vehicles registered in the EU in 2011. The average CO2 emissions for these cars was 135.7 grams CO2 per kilometre, which is 4.6g CO2/km less than in 2010 – a reduction of 3.3 %. more
There were 8,700 pure electric cars registered in the EU in 2011. While this number is only 0.07 % of new cars registered, so did not significantly influence the EU average emissions, it is a 10-fold increase on 2010. more
Human activities are the main cause of poor air quality, but natural sources of air pollution also play a role. The most common natural sources of particulate matter in Europe are desert dust, volcanoes, forest and grassland fires, and salt... more
Registration of new cars in the EU increased constantly between 2001 and 2007, peaking at 15.5 million cars, but has fallen continuously since. Between 2010 and 2011 the number of new car registrations increased in many Member States, notably... more
Personal mobility is estimated to cause 20 % of greenhouse gases, 19 % of acidifying emissions, 32 % of tropospheric ozone precursors and 15 % of material resource use activated by national consumption. more
Europe has significantly cut emissions of the main air pollutants in recent decades, greatly reducing exposure to substances such as sulphur dioxide and lead. more
Fine particle pollution (PM2.5) is estimated to account for some 5 million lost years of life in the EEA-32 countries every year. more
In the EEA-32 countries, the area of sensitive ecosystems exposed to excess acidification from air pollution fell by about 80 % from 1990–2010. more
Exposure to ground-level ozone concentrations above critical health levels is associated with more than 20 000 premature deaths in the EU-25 annually. more
Only 14 European countries expect to comply with all four pollutant-specific emission ceilings set under EU and international legislation for 2010. more
Cities emit 69 % of Europe's CO2. more
Urban transport accounts for 70 % of the pollutants and 40 % of the greenhouse gas emissions from European road transport. more
A city affects a large area outside its own boundaries. For example, London alone is thought to need an area of almost 300 times its geographical size to satisfy its demands and for disposal of its waste and emissions. more
Air pollutants, including fine particles and ozone precursors, can travel thousands of kilometres across the continent by air. In many cities, only a part of local air pollution is generated by the city itself. more
The costs of air pollution from the 10 000 largest polluting facilities in Europe was between € 102 and 169 billion in 2009. A small number of facilities caused the majority of these damage costs; fifty per cent of the costs occurred as a... more
Air pollution by the facilities covered by EEA’s analysis cost every European citizen approximately € 200-330 on average in 2009. more

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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Phone: +45 3336 7100