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Achieving levels of good air quality in Europe is still a challenge, especially in urban areas with high volumes of traffic.
Despite considerable improvements over recent decades, air pollution is still responsible for more than 400 000 premature deaths in Europe each year. It also continues to damage vegetation and ecosystems.
Transport contributes significantly to the emissions of many air pollutants and the resulting poor air quality, particularly in urban areas with high traffic volumes.
The annual EU limit value for NO 2 , one of the main air quality pollutants of concern and typically associated with vehicle emissions, was widely exceeded across Europe in 2013, with 93 % of all exceedances occurring at road‑side monitoring locations.
In 2013, about 17 % of the EU‑28 urban population was exposed to PM 10 above the EU daily limit value. In 2013, transport also contributed to 13 % and 15 % of the total PM 10 and PM 2.5 primary emissions, respectively, in the EU Member States. Non-exhaust emissions are estimated to equal about 50 % of the exhaust emissions of primary PM 10 and about 22 % of those of primary PM 2.5 .
In the EEA-33 countries, emissions of a number of compounds, categorised as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), decreased between 1990 and 2013. Emissions reductions were noted for hexachlorobenzene (HCB, by 96 %), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, by 76 %), dioxins and furans (by 84 %), and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, by 62 %).
While the majority of countries report that POPs emissions fell during this period, in some countries emissions increased.
In 2013, the most significant sources of emissions for these POPs included the ‘Commercial, institutional and households’ (26 % of HCB, 40 % of dioxin and furan and 18% of PCB emissions) and ‘Industrial processes and product use’ (23 % of HCB and 46% of PCB) sectors.
Across the EEA-33 countries, emissions of lead decreased by 92 % between 1990 and 2013, while emissions of mercury fell by 73 % and cadmium by 75 % over the same period.
Lead emissions from the road transport sector decreased by 98 % between 1990 and 2013 - a particular success story . Nevertheless, this sector still remains an important source of lead, contributing around 15 % of the remaining lead emissions in the EEA-33 region. Since 2004, little progress has been made in reducing emissions further; 99 % of the total reduction from 1990 levels of lead emissions was achieved by 2004.
There was no discernible trend in European ozone concentrations between 2003 and 2012, in terms of the annual mean of the daily maximum eight hour average measured at any type of station.
It is difficult to attribute observed ozone exceedences, or changes therein, to individual causes such as climate change.
Future climate change is expected to increase ozone concentrations, but this increase should not exceed 5 µg/m 3 by the middle of the century and would therefore likely be outweighed by reductions in ozone levels due to planned future emissions reductions.
End of the century projections for the effects of climate change involve an increase of up to 8 µg/m 3 in ozone concentrations .
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 ( NO x ) (35%), sulphur oxide ( SO x ) (36%) and particulate matter (35 % in the case of PM 2.5 and 27 % for PM 10 ).
Emissions of all pollutants decreased in 2013 compared with the previous year. NO x emissions decreased by 5 % , SO x by 12 % , and PM 10 and PM 2.5 by 9 % and 10 % respectively. The latest data shows that non-exhaust emissions of primary PM 10 and PM 2.5 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 (NH 3 ) emissions from road transport have increased following the introduction of three-way catalytic converters on road vehicles, from which NH 3 is released as a byproduct.
Anthropogenic emissions of the main air pollutants decreased significantly in most EEA-33 member countries between 1990 and 2013:
Nitrogen oxides (NO x ) emissions decreased by 49 % (54 % in the EU-28);
Sulphur oxides (SO x ) emissions decreased by 80 % (87 % in the EU-28);
Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) emissions decreased by 57 % (59 % in the EU-28);
Ammonia (NH 3 ) emissions decreased by 15 % (27 % in the EU-28); and
Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ) emissions decreased by 34 % (34 % in the EU-28).
The EU-28 met its continuing obligation to maintain emissions of NO x , SO x , NH 3 and NMVOC below legally binding targets as specified by the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD). However, a number of individual Member States reported emissions above their NECD emission ceilings: six for NO X (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and Luxembourg), six for NH 3 (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands and Spain) and three for NMVOCs (Denmark, Germany and Ireland). There are no emission ceilings for primary PM 2.5 .
Three additional EEA member countries have emission ceilings for 2010 set in the Gothenburg Protocol under the 1979 UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). Liechtenstein reported emissions above their NO x ceiling. Liechtenstein and Norway reported emissions above their NH 3 ceiling.
Emissions reduction commitments for 2020 have been set under the 2012 amended Gothenburg Protocol for NO x , SO 2 , NMVOC, NH 3 , and PM 2.5 . The EU-28 as a whole is on track to meet its reduction commitments.
In the EU-28 countries, the ecosystem area where acidification critical loads were exceeded decreased from 43% in 1980 to 7% in 2010 (it also decreased by 7% across all EEA member countries). There remain some areas where the EU's interim objective for reducing acidification, as defined in the National Emission Ceilings Directive, has not been met.
The EU28 ecosystem area, where the critical loads for eutrophication were exceeded, peaked at 84% in 1990 and decreased to 63% in 2010 (55% in EEA member countries). The area in exceedance is projected to further decrease to 54% in 2020 for the EU28 (48% in EEA member countries), assuming current legislation is implemented. The magnitude of the exceedances is projected to reduce considerably in most areas, except for a few 'hot spot' areas in western France and the border areas between the Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands as well as in northern Italy.
Only 4% of the EU-28 ecosystem area (3% in EEA member countries) is still projected to be in exceedance of acidification critical loads in 2020 if current legislation is fully implemented. The eutrophication reduction target set in the updated EU air pollution strategy proposed by the European Commission in late 2013, will be met by 2030 if it is assumed that all maximum technically feasible reduction measures are implemented, but it will not be met by current legislation.
Most of Europe's vegetation and agricultural crops are exposed to ozone levels that exceed the long term objective specified in the EU Air Quality Directive. A significant fraction is also exposed to levels above the target value threshold defined in the directive. In 2012, the agricultural area exposed to concentrations above the target value threshold increased to 27% of the total area, representing an increase compared to the previous three years.
With regard to forest ozone exposure, between 2004 and 2012, 60% or more of the forest area was exposed to concentrations above the critical level set by the UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution.
Air quality in Europe is slowly improving. However, between 2000 and 2013, a significant proportion of the urban population in the EU28 was exposed to concentrations of certain air pollutants above the EU limit or target values. The numbers of people exposed were even higher in relation to the more stringent World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guideline values set for the protection of human health .
For fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ), 4-14% of t he urban population were exposed to concentrations in excess of the EU target value, while 87-98% were exposed to concentrations above the WHO guideline value (for 2006-2013 only) .
For particulate matter (PM 10 ), the respective exposure estimates were 17-41% for the EU limit value and 61-92% for the WHO guideline value .
For ozone (O 3 ), 14-58% for the EU target value and 93-99% for the WHO guideline value .
For nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 ), 8-27% in both cases (limit value and WHO guideline).
For benzo(a)pyrene (BaP), 20-28% for EU target value and 85-91% for the estimated reference level (for 2008-2013 only).
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.
PDF generated on 25 May 2016, 11:43 AM
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