Air pollutant emissions

Briefing Published 29 Nov 2018 Last modified 14 Dec 2018
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Air pollutant emissions

Indicator

Indicator past trend

Selected objective to be met by 2020

Indicative outlook for 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

Green triangle: improving 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 % and 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 decreased and current projections suggest that the EU as a whole is on target to meet its 2020 EU and international air pollutant emission reduction commitments for all but ammonia emissions. The latter increased year-on-year between 2014 and 2016, and it is uncertain whether the ammonia reduction commitment will be met. 

For further information on the scoreboard methodology please see Box I.3 in the EEA Environmental indicator report 2018

 

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 from 2010 onwards 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 and under the old EU National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD). The amended Gothenburg Protocol and the new NECD further specify emission reduction commitments from 2020 onwards for selected pollutants.

Emissions of these pollutants have generally decreased over the period examined (2005 to 2016). The EU as a whole is on course to meet its 2020 emission reduction commitments, with the potential exception of ammonia emissions, which increased year-on-year from 2014 to 2016. Further efforts may also be needed in the cases of nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter to stay on track with meeting the 2020 emission reduction commitments while the reduction commitments for non-methane volatile organic compounds and sulphur dioxide have already been met. However, a number of EU Member States continue to report emissions above their respective NECD ceilings for 2010. Projected emissions for most Member States show they do not consider themselves on track to their 2020 reduction commitments for one or several pollutants.

Setting the scene

The 7th EAP (EU, 2013) sets out commitments to improve the implementation of existing legislation and to secure additional reductions in air pollution. 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. Air quality state and impacts are discussed in the briefings on outdoor air quality in urban areas (AIRS_PO3.1, 2018) and on the eutrophication of terrestrial ecosystems due to air pollution (AIRS_PO1.1, 2018).

Policy targets and progress

The earlier NECD (EU, 2001a) and the Gothenburg Protocol (UNECE, 1979) set emission ceilings for 2010 for European countries for SOx (SO2 in the NECD), NOx, NMVOCs and NH3. The 2012 amended Gothenburg Protocol (UNECE, 2012) and the new NECD (EU, 2016) 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 beyond; for the latter see further information in the ‘Outlook beyond 2020’ section.

Anthropogenic emissions of certain air pollutants decreased between 2005 and 2016 in both the EU (Figure 1, left panel) and the EEA-33 (the 33 member countries of the European Environment Agency, including the 28 EU Member States) (Figure 1, right panel). However, NH3 emissions have slowly increased since 2014 both in the EU and the EEA-33.

A number of Member States have reported emissions above the levels of their 2010 emission ceilings set out in the NECD (EEA, 2018a):

  • NOx: 14 Member States exceeded their emission ceilings in 2010 and two Member States continued to exceed them in 2016 (Austria and Ireland).
  • NMVOCs: six Member States exceeded their emission ceilings in 2010 and one Member State (Hungary) continued to exceed it in 2016.
  • SO2: all Member States have met their emission ceilings for SO2 since 2010.
  • NH3: five Member States (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands and Spain) exceeded their emission ceilings in 2010 and five Member States (Austria, Croatia, Germany, Ireland and Spain) exceeded their ceilings in 2016.

The new NEC Directive allows Member States, under certain circumstances, to adjust their reported emissions for compliance assessment with the national ceilings. Several Member States have applied to the European Commission for such adjustments, and where these adjustments were approved the number of exceeded ceilings decreased[1].

Future reductions in emissions are still required in most Member States in order for them to meet their respective emission reduction commitments from 2020 onwards, 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, 2018b

In the paragraphs below, the trends in emissions of the individual pollutants over the 2005 to 2016 period are discussed.

Nitrogen oxides

Nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions continue to decrease and in 2016 they were 35 % below 2005 levels in the EEA-33 and 37 % below 2005 levels in the EU. Emission reductions have, however, not been as great as originally anticipated. This is because real-world driving emissions in the road transport sector — especially from diesel passenger vehicles and vans — have been, on average, four or five times higher than the European emission standards by vehicle type, which all vehicles must meet in a laboratory testing procedure. In 2016, the road transport sector contributed 36 % of total EU NOx emissions (38 % in the EEA-33).

Sulphur oxides

In 2016, sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions had fallen by approximately 69 % of their 2005 levels for the EU and 52 % of their 2005 levels for the EEA-33. This means that the EU target of reducing 2020 SOx emissions by 59 % compared with their 2005 levels has already been met. The energy production and distribution sector has been responsible for most of the SOx emissions – 58 % in 2016. This sector has also contributed about 80 % of the reduction in emissions. This has happened for various reasons, including stricter emission limits established under the Large Combustion Plants Directive (EU, 2001b) and the Industrial Emissions Directive (EU, 2010), 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

In 2016, non-methane volatile organic compound (NMVOC) emissions for the EEA-33 and the EU were approximately 25 % and 29 % lower compared with their 2005 levels. This means that the target of reducing the 2020 NMVOC emissions by 28 % compared with their 2005 levels has already been met. The largest source of NMVOC emissions is ‘solvent and product use’. Various EU measures have helped to reduce emissions over the period examined including stricter requirements for industrial facilities, limits on the solvent content of paints and mandatory vapour recovery equipment at petrol stations.    

Ammonia

Ammonia (NH3) emissions have remained more or less stable since 2005. 2016 emissions fell by 4 % from their 2005 level in the EU[2], whereas in the EEA-33 they decreased by 0.4 %. Agriculture dominates emissions of NH3: in 2016, 92 % of emissions came from the agricultural sector. NH3 emissions 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 emissions is evident in the agricultural sector. In fact, NH3 emissions increased in the EU for the last three consecutive years (2014-2016) of the period examined; the total increase from 2014 to 2016 was 2 % (2.6 % in the EEA-33). Key reasons behind this recent trend are the increase in amount of animal manure applied to soils — mostly as an organic fertiliser — and the increase in the use of inorganic fertilisers.

Particulate matter 

Emissions of primary PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 µm or less) were 21 % lower in 2016 compared with their 2005 levels both in the EEA-33 and in the EU. Most PM2.5 emissions come from the ‘commercial, institutional and households’ sector, i.e. from small combustion plants at commercial and institutional facilities, as well as from households. The recently agreed Medium Combustion Plants Directive (EU, 2015) will help reduce future emissions of PM2.5 from many facilities. It remains, however, challenging to reduce emissions from residential combustion, which is the largest source of PM2.5 emissions (51 % of total PM2.5 emissions in the EU in 2016). Furthermore, it continues to be a challenge to reduce emissions from road transport, which is the second largest source of PM2.5 (11 % of total PM2.5 emissions in the EU in 2016) (EEA, 2018b).

Overall assessment at EU level

National air pollutant emission projections reported in 2017 and 2018 and aggregated by the European Environment Agency (EEA) at EU level suggest that the EU as a whole is on target to meet 2020 EU and international emission reduction commitments, with the potential exception of ammonia (EEA own calculations based on EEA 2018c). 2020 reduction commitments for non methane volatile organic compounds and sulphur oxides emissions were already met in 2016. Further efforts in reducing the emissions of nitrogen oxides and of fine particulate matter may be necessary in order to remain on track to meeting the 2020 emission reduction commitments related to these two air pollutants. Ammonia emission projection results, as well as the increase in ammonia emissions for the past 3 years in a row (2014 - 2016), make the outlook for meeting 2020 reduction commitments for ammonia uncertain.

Country level information

Table 1 compares 2016 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. Projected emissions reported by all Member States in 2017 and 2018 show that 20 countries do not consider themselves on track towards meeting their reduction commitments set for 2020 for one or more of the pollutants (NOx, NH3, NMVOCs, SO2 and/or PM2.5) on the basis of policies and measures currently in place (EEA, 2018a). Regarding non-EU EEA member countries, the 2020 emission reduction commitments correspond to those in the Gothenburg Protocol. The colours indicate to what extent 2016 emissions exceeded the 2020 emission reduction commitment for each country and for the EU as a whole.

Table 1. 2016 emissions of air pollutants and 2020 air pollutant emission reduction commitments (Gothenburg Protocol or National Emission Ceilings Directive) by country

 

Source: EEA, 2018c, 2018d

As noted earlier, future reductions in emissions will still be required in most countries for them to 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 from 2020 onwards, but also 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 the EU is to achieve the long-term objective — set in the European Commission’s ‘Clean Air Programme for Europe’ (EC, 2013) — of air pollution levels that do not lead to unacceptable harm to human health and the environment (EEA, 2018a). A number of EU level measures already taken will start to deliver benefits in the next decade including the Medium Combustion Plants Directive and Best Available Techniques conclusions for a number of sectors such as the large combustion plants sector.

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 2016. Data for the EU Member States are taken from the latest EU emission inventory submission to the UNECE Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) Convention. Data for the non-EU countries that are members of the EEA are taken from the reporting under the UNECE LRTAP Convention to the LRTAP Centre on Emission Inventories and Projections (EEA, 2018c, 2018d, 2018e).

Footnotes and references

[1] In 2018, new adjustment applications were submitted by four Member States (Austria, Hungary, Ireland and the United Kingdom). In addition, nine Member States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain) asked for adjustments related to applications that were already approved by the European Commission (EC) in 2017. All adjustment applications will be reviewed by the EC. If approved, the number of Member States exceeding one or more emission ceilings in 2016 would decrease from six to four, with emissions from Hungary and Ireland subsequently falling below all of their respective ceilings. Austria would achieve an emission level below its NOx ceiling from 2014 onwards and be very close to meeting its ceiling for NH3 (EEA, 2018a).

[2] According to the scoreboard methodology, a change of more than 3 % in the indicator value from the base year to the latest available year is considered significant enough to qualify a trend as improving (or as deteriorating). This is why last year’s scoreboard assessed the EU ammonia emissions past trend as stable since there was a 3 % decrease in the emissions between 2005 and 2015. However, this year’s scoreboard assessed the trend as improving because the decrease between 2005 and 2016 was 4 %. It should also be noted that the countries resubmit the full time series of their air pollutant emission data, including ammonia data, every year. This is because the countries may apply changes to account for improvements in methodology, corrections or adjustments following authorisation by the European Commission or the Steering Board of the UNECE European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (depending on the country). This means that changes in the past trend scoreboard results in relation to ammonia emissions may be a result of such resubmissions.

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, 2018a, ‘NEC Directive status 2018’ (https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air/national-emission-ceilings/nec-directive-reporting-status-2018) accessed 12 October 2018.

EEA, 2018b, Air quality in Europe — 2018 report, EEA Report No 12/2018 European Environment Agency.

EEA, 2018c, ‘National Emission Ceilings Directive emissions data viewer 1990-2016’, European Environment Agency (https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/dashboards/necd-directive-data-viewer-1) accessed 15 October 2018.

EEA, 2018d, ‘Air pollutant emissions data viewer (LRTAP Convention)’, European Environment Agency (https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/dashboards/air-pollutant-emissions-data-viewer-1) accessed 12 October 2018.

EEA, 2018e, European Union emission inventory report 1990–2016 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), EEA Technical Report No 6/2018, European Environment Agency.

EU, 2001a, 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, 2001b, Directive (EC) 2001/80 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2001 on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants (OJ L 309, 27.11.2001, p. 1–21).

EU, 2010, Directive (EU) 2010/75 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) (Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) (OJ L 334, 17.12.2010, p. 17–119).

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 6 April 2018.

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 6 April 2018.

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 6 April 2018.

AIRS briefings

AIRS_PO3.1, 2018, Outdoor air quality in urban areas.

AIRS_PO1.1, 2018, Eutrophication of terrestrial ecosystems due to air pollution.

 

Environmental indicator report 2018 – In support to the monitoring of the 7th Environment Action Programme, EEA report No19/2018, 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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