Air pollutant emissions

Briefing Published 30 Nov 2017 Last modified 05 Jul 2018
11 min read
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Air pollutant emissions

Indicator

Indicator past trend

Selected objective to be met by 2020

Indicative outlook of the EU meeting the selected objective by 2020

Emissions of the main air pollutants in Europe (sulphur oxides: SO2; nitrogen oxides: NOx; ammonia: NH3; non-methane volatile organic compounds: NMVOCs; fine particulate matter: PM2.5)

EU 28

SO2,
NOx, NMVOCs,  PM2.5

Green triangle: improving trend


NH3

Yellow triangle: stable or unclear trend

EEA 33

SO2,
NOx, NMVOCs, PM2.5

Green triangle: improving trend


NH3

Yellow triangle: stable or unclear trend

 

Reduce air pollutant emissions in accordance with the requirements of the amended Gothenburg Protocol and of the new EU National Emission Ceilings Directive by the following percentages: SO2 59 %, NOX 42 %, NH3 6 %, NMVOCs 28 %, PM2.5 22 % compared with 2005 levels

 SO2,
 
NOx,
NMVOCs,
PM
2.5

Green circle: it is likely that the objective will be met by 2020

 
NH3

Stable or unclear trend

 

Air pollutant emissions have declined and current projections suggest that the EU is on target to meet its 2020 EU and international air pollutant emission reduction commitments. However, since ammonia emissions increased the past two years (2014 and 2015) it has become uncertain if the ammonia reduction commitment will be met by 2020  

For further information on the scoreboard methodology please see Box I.3 in the EEA Environmental indicator report 2017

 

The Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) sets out commitments to improve the implementation of existing legislation on emissions to air and to secure further reductions in air pollution. Ceilings for 2010 were set for emissions of key air pollutants under the Gothenburg Protocol of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) and under the old EU National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD). The amended Gothenburg Protocol and the new NECD further specify emission reduction commitments for 2020 for selected pollutants.
Emissions of these pollutants have generally decreased over the period examined (2005 to 2015). While the EU as a whole is on course to meet its 2020 emission reduction commitments with the potential exception of ammonia, a number of EU Member States continue to report emissions above their respective Gothenburg Protocol and NECD ceilings for 2010.

Setting the scene

Air pollution is responsible for more than 400 000 premature deaths in Europe each year. It also harms crop growth and ecosystems, and damages the built environment (EEA, 2016). In Europe, the most problematic pollutants in terms of harm to human health are particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) (EEA, 2016). PM is emitted directly from emission sources but can also form in the atmosphere from various precursor pollutants including sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3). Ground-level O3 is similarly formed in the atmosphere from various precursor species including NOx and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs). Each of these pollutants can contribute to premature mortality and morbidity including respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease. SO2, NOx and NH3 also cause ecosystem acidification and eutrophication, as well as damage to buildings and vegetation. When absorbed by plants, O3 damages plant cells, impairing their ability to grow and reproduce, and leading to reduced agricultural crop yields, decreased forest growth and reduced biodiversity. The 7th EAP (EU, 2013) sets out commitments to improve the implementation of existing legislation and to secure additional reductions in air pollution. Air quality state and impacts are discussed in the briefings on outdoor air quality in urban areas (AIRS_PO3.1, 2017) and on the eutrophication of terrestrial ecosystems due to air pollution (AIRS_PO1.1, 2017).

Policy targets and progress

The earlier NECD (EU, 2001) and the Gothenburg Protocol (UNECE, 1979) set emission ceilings for 2010 for European countries for SOx (SO2 in the NECD), NOx, NMVOCs and NH3The 2012 amended Gothenburg Protocol (UNECE, 2012) and the new NECD (EU, 2016) now also set 2020 emission reduction commitments for these same four pollutants, as well as for primary PM2.5 emissions. The new NECD ensures that the old NECD 2010 emission ceilings apply until the end of 2019, transposes the amended Gothenburg Protocol 2020 reduction commitments and sets more ambitious reduction commitments for 2030 and the years beyond; for the latter see further information in the ‘Outlook beyond 2020’ section.

Anthropogenic emissions of certain air pollutants have decreased in both the EU (Figure 1, left panel) and the EEA-33 (the 33 member countries of the European Environment Agency, which includes the 28 EU Member States) between 2005 and 2015 (Figure 1, right panel). However, for both NH3 and PM2.5, little progress has been made in reducing emissions.

A number of Member States have reported emissions above the levels of their 2010 emission ceilings set out in the NECD (EEA, 2017a):

  • NOx: 13 Member States exceeded their emission ceilings in 2010 and six Member States continued to exceed them in 2015 (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and Luxembourg).
  • NMVOCs: six Member States exceeded their emission ceilings in 2010 and five Member States continued to exceed them in 2015 (Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland and Luxembourg).
  • SO2: all Member States have met their emission ceilings for SO2 since 2010.
  • NH3: six Member States (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden and Spain) have exceeded their emission ceilings since 2010.

The new NEC Directive allows Member States, under certain circumstances, to adjust their reported emissions for compliance assessment with the national ceilings. In 2017, adjustment applications were submitted by nine Member States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain). These applications are being reviewed by the European Commission, and if approved, the number of Member States exceeding one or more emission ceilings in 2015 would decrease.

Future reductions in emissions are still required in most Member States in order for them to meet their respective emission reduction commitments for 2020, as set out in the amended Gothenburg Protocol and the new NECD.

Figure 1. Trends in emissions of air pollutants in the EU (left) and in the EEA-33 (right)

Source: National emissions reported to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP Convention), EEA, 2017b

Note: All emissions presented here for 2015 both at EU and EEA-33 level are underestimated since they do not account for the emissions from Greece; Greece did not report as yet its 2015 emissions.

In the paragraphs below, the trends in emissions of the individual pollutants over the 2005 to 2015 period are discussed.

Nitrogen oxides

NOx emissions for the EEA-33 and the EU continue to decrease and are more than 30 % below 2005 levels. Emission reductions have, however, not been as great as originally anticipated. This is because real-world driving emissions in the road transport sector — especially for diesel passenger vehicles and vans — are, on average, four or five times higher than the European emission standards by vehicle type that all vehicles must meet in a laboratory testing procedure. The transport sector contributed 39 % of total EU NOx emissions (38 % in the EEA 33).

Sulphur oxides

In 2015, SOx emissions had fallen by approximately 64 % of their 2005 levels for the EU and 51 % of their 2005 levels for the EEA-33. The energy production and distribution sector has been responsible for the largest reductions in emissions. This has happened for various reasons, including the closure of a number of old or uneconomical large combustion plants, which typically burn coal, and improvements in energy efficiency at industrial facilities, which have also reduced emissions.

Non-methane volatile organic compounds

NMVOC emissions for the EEA-33 and the EU have fallen by approximately 24 % and 27 % compared with their 2005 levels. The largest source of NMVOC emissions is ‘solvent and product use’. Various EU measures have helped to reduce emissions over the last decade, including stricter requirements for industrial facilities, limits on the solvent content of paints and mandatory vapour recovery equipment at petrol stations. However, compared with 2014, NMVOC emissions in 2015 increased slightly, i.e. by 0.4 % in the EU and by 0.7 % in the EEA-33.   

Ammonia

NH3 emissions have remained largely stable since 2005 compared with the other pollutants — they fell by only 3 % from their 2005 level in the EU, while in the EEA-33 they have increased by 0.1 % since 2005[1]. Agriculture dominates emissions of NH3: they arise primarily from the decomposition of animal manure and the application of fertiliser. There are a number of technical measures available to mitigate ammonia emissions, yet little progress in reducing them is evident in the agricultural sector. However, in 2014 and 2015, NH3 emissions increased in the EU by 1.1 % and 1.8 % respectively (and by 1 % and 0.9 % in the EEA-33). One main reason for the high or even rising NH3 emissions in some countries is the increasing number of pig or poultry facilities without implementing measures and/or technologies to limit emissions.

Particulate matter 

Emissions of primary PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 µm or less) have reduced by almost 20 % for both the EEA-33 and the EU compared with their 2005 levels. Most PM2.5 emissions come from small combustion plants at commercial and institutional facilities, as well as from households. Although the recently agreed Medium Combustion Plants Directive (EU, 2015) will help reduce future emissions of PM2.5 from many facilities, it remains challenging for many authorities to regulate and reduce emissions from residential combustion. The latter is an important source of air pollution in many Member States. Road transport is the second most important source of PM2.5.

 

Current projections suggest that the EU is on target to meet the 2020 EU and international emission reduction commitments (IIASA, 2014). However, the increase in ammonia emissions for the past two years in a row (2014 and 2015) results in an uncertain outlook for meeting by 2020 the reduction commitments for ammonia.

Country level information

Table 1 compares the 2015 emissions by country with the respective emission reduction commitments for 2020. With regard to the EU Member States, the 2020 emission reduction commitments correspond to those of the new NECD. Regarding non-EU EEA member countries, the 2020 emission reduction commitments correspond to those in the Gothenburg Protocol. The colours indicate to what extent 2015 emissions exceeded the 2020 emission reduction commitment for each country and for the EU as a whole.

Table 1. 2015 emissions of air pollutants and 2020 air pollutant emission reduction commitments (Gothenburg Protocol or National Emission Ceilings Directive), by country

table-1-82911-1.eps

Source: EEA, 2017 b, 2017 d

As noted earlier, future reductions in emissions will still be required in most countries so that they meet their respective emission reduction commitments for 2020. However, a number of countries already report emissions below the level required by 2020.

Outlook beyond 2020

In 2016 the EU adopted a new NECD, which sets emission reduction commitments for NOx, NMVOCs, SO2, NH3 and PM2.5 for 2020 as well as more ambitious reduction commitments for 2030 and beyond. The 2030 commitments aim to cut the health impacts of air pollution (in terms of premature mortality) by half compared with 2005. Additional measures beyond the new NECD are still needed if Europe is to achieve the long-term objective of air pollution levels that do not lead to unacceptable harm to human health and the environment.

About the indicator

This indicator deals with the emissions of key anthropogenic air pollutants. It covers anthropogenic emissions of the air pollutants SOx, NOx, NH3, NMVOCs, and PM2.5 for the years 2005 to 2015. Data for the EU Member States are taken from the latest EU emission inventory submission to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) Convention. Data for the non-EU countries that are members of the European Environment Agency are taken from the reporting under the UNECE LRTAP Convention to the LRTAP Centre on Emission Inventories and Projections (EEA, 2017a, 2017b).


Footnotes and references

[1] Last year’s scoreboard assessed the EU ammonia emissions past trend as improving since there was a 4 % decrease in the emissions between 2005 and 2014. This year’s scoreboard assessed the trend as stable since the decrease between 2005 and 2015 was 3 %. According to the scoreboard methodology, a difference of up to 3 % in the indicator value from the base year to the latest available year is not considered significant enough to qualify a trend as improving or deteriorating. Similarly, last year’s scoreboard assessed the EEA-33 ammonia emissions past trend as deteriorating since there was an almost 10 % increase in the emissions between 2005 and 2014. This year’s scoreboard assessed the trend as stable since the increase between 2005 and 2015 was 0.1 % mainly as a result of significant changes in the 2005-2014 data that were submitted by Turkey in its latest submission (2017).  

 

EC, 2013, Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions ‘A clean air programme for Europe’ (COM(2013) 918 final).

EEA, 2016, Air quality in Europe — 2015 report, EEA Report No 28/2016 European Environment Agency.

EEA, 2017a, ‘NEC Directive status briefing 2017 – The need to reduce air pollution in Europe’ (https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air/national-emission-ceilings/nec-directive-reporting-status) accessed 4 July 2017.

EEA, 2017b, ‘Air pollutant emissions data viewer (LRTAP Convention)’, European Environment Agency (https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/dashboards/air-pollutant-emissions-data-viewer ) accessed 20 October 2017.

EEA, 2017c, European Union emission inventory report 1990–2015 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), EEA Technical Report No 9/2017, European Environment Agency.

EEA, 2017d, ‘NECD data viewer’, European Environment Agency (https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/dashboards/necd-directive-data-viewer) accessed 4 July 2017.

EU, 2001, Directive 2001/81/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2001 on national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants (OJ L 309, 27.11.2001, p. 22–30).

EU, 2013, Decision No 1386/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’ Annex A, paragraph 28d (OJ L, 354, 28.12.2013, p. 171–200). 

EU, 2015, Directive (EU) 2015/2193 of the European Parliament and the Council of 25 November 2015 on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from medium combustion plants (OJ L 313, 28.11.2015, p. 1–19).

EU, 2016, Directive (EU) 2016/2284 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 December 2016 on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants, amending Directive 2003/35/EC and repealing Directive 2001/81/EC (OJ L 344/1, 17.12.2016).

IIASA, 2014, The Final Policy Scenarios of the EU Clean Air Policy Package, TSAP Report No 11, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, (http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/researchPrograms/air/policy/TSAP_11-finalv1-1a.pdf) accessed 9 June 2017.

UNECE, 1979, The Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. (https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/lrtap/full%20text/1979.CLRTAP.e.pdf) accessed 9 June 2017.

UNECE, 2012, 1999 Protocol to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone to the Convention on Long range Transboundary Air Pollution, amended on 4 May 2012, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (http://www.unece.org/env/lrtap/multi_h1.html) accessed 04 July 2017.

 

AIRS briefings

AIRS_PO3.1, 2017, Outdoor air quality in urban areas

AIRS_PO1.1, 2017, Eutrophication of terrestrial ecosystems due to air pollution

Environmental indicator report 2017 – In support to the monitoring of the 7th Environment Action Programme, EEA report No21/2017, European Environment Agency

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Based on indicators

Emissions of the main air pollutants in Europe Emissions of the main air pollutants in Europe Anthropogenic emissions of the main air pollutants decreased significantly in most EEA-33 member countries between 1990 and 2012: Nitrogen oxides (NO X ) emissions decreased by 46% (51% in the EU-28); Sulphur oxides (SO X ) emissions decreased by 75% (84% in the EU-28); Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) emissions decreased by 56% (60% in the EU-28); Ammonia (NH 3 ) emissions decreased by 24% (28% in the EU-28); and Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ) emissions decreased by 35% (35% in the EU-28). The EU-28 as a whole did not meet its 2010 target to reduce emissions of NO X . A further reduction of 2.2% from the 2010 emissions level is required to meet the interim environmental objectives set in the European Union’s 2001 National Emission Ceiling Directive (NECD). The EU-28 met its continuing obligation to maintain emissions of SO X , NH 3  and NMVOC below legally binding targets as specified by the NECD. A number of EU Member States reported emissions above their NECD emission ceilings: nine for NO X , three for NH 3 , and one for NMVOCs. 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). All three countries met the SOx ceiling. Switzerland also met the ceilings for the other three pollutants. Liechtenstein exceeded the NMVOC ceiling. Norway breached two ceilings, for NH 3 and for NOx.

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