Indicator Assessment

Industrial pollutant releases to air in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-446-en
  Also known as: CSI 055 , INDP 003
Published 16 Jun 2021 Last modified 16 Jun 2021
8 min read

Industrial releases of air pollutants that are damaging to human health and the environment decreased between 2010 and 2019 in Europe, with emissions of greenhouse gases (e.g. CO2 and sulphur oxides) and other pollutants (e.g. nitrogen oxides, dust and heavy metals) all declining significantly. The value that industry generated for the European economy during this period increased, however, in line with the goal of the EU industrial strategy: to support the competitiveness of European industry while driving a reduction in emissions, the use of natural resources and the production of waste.

Trends in pollutant releases to air from industry in Europe

Note: This figure shows the trends in pollutant releases into air in the EU-27 from 2010 to 2019, using 2010 release values as a reference. In addition, gross value added (GVA) from the industry sector is presented. GVA, gross value added; NMVOC, non-methane volatile organic compound; NOx, nitrogen oxides; PM10, particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 μm; SOx, sulphur oxides. EU-27 Member States as of 2021. The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) does not contain data for Turkey, which is not covered by the E-PRTR Regulation. GVA is used as a proxy for the economic activity of industry in Europe, accounting for inflation, based on 2010 values.

European industry results in the release of pollutants to air. These include greenhouse gases, such as CO2 and acidifying pollutants (e.g. sulphur oxides — SOx), and other pollutants that damage human health and the environment, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (in this case PM10), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and heavy metals including Cd, Pb and Hg.

To reduce pollutant emissions, the use of natural resources and the generation of waste, EU industrial policy (EC, undated, 2020c) aims to drive a transition to a strong, low-carbon industry based on circular material flows. Monitoring the release of air pollutants is key to tracking progress towards achieving this goal.

Industrial emissions to air are reported under the Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Mechanism Regulation (EU, 2013) (CO2) and the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) (EEA, 2019b), which covers releases from large industrial facilities involved in only certain activities.

Between 2010 and 2019, industrial releases of SOx and PM10 decreased by 50% in the European Union. Other emissions decreased to a lesser extent: CO2 by 8%, NOx by 25% and heavy metals (Cd, Hg and Pb) by 40% whereas NMVOC increased by 1%. However, data for the last years is still being quality assured and corrected by reporting countries and thus could vary slightly. During the same period, the value that industry generated for the economy — as measured by gross added value (GVA) — increased, indicating that European industry has become less emission intensive, as the ratio of air pollutant releases to the production of industrial goods decreased.

The decrease in industrial pollutant emissions to air can be partly attributed to European regulation, such as the EU Emissions Trading System (EC, 2020a) and the Industrial Emissions Directive (EC, 2020b), improvements in energy efficiency and abatement technologies, and the relocation of various heavy-polluting and energy-intensive manufacturing industries (such as textile or metal production) to outside Europe.

Change in pollutant releases into air in EU-27 countries in the period 2010-2019

Note: The table shows the changes in pollutant releases in EU-27 Member States from 2010 to 2019. Croatia reported data from 2014, therefore the comparison is made against 2014 emissions. Due to a lack in reporting, some gap filling has been made for the following countries: Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal with 2017 data, Italy and the Netherlands with 2018 data. Due to questionable quality for some data reported on CO2 and NOx emissions from France in 2019, some data points have been replaced by 2018 comparable values until a correction is provided; NOx emissions from the Netherlands have been replaced by 2017 data due to questionable reporting until a correction is made.

Emission levels in 2019 dropped significantly from those of 2010 for almost all pollutants in the majority of EU Member States. After the economic downturn in 2008–2009, emission levels continued to decrease. Industrial emissions are very complex in terms of substances to consider, the effects they have on the environment and health and their very different realities across European countries.  

Some patterns can be identified. On the one hand, emissions of pollutants associated primarily with activities that include combustion processes (e.g. electricity producers, iron and steel works, cement plants), are generally decreasing across the board. This refers to emissions of NOx, SOx and PM10. That trend is consistent with the improvement in environmental performance of these industries. Evidence points to EU policy as one of the key drivers of these positive developments.

The pattern for CO2 emissions is similarly decreasing overall, while some countries show a diverging situation. Similarly, emissions of NMVOCs also show a mixed picture.

Heavy metals (Cd, Hg, Pb) are emitted in relatively lower amounts and they have a naturally variable trend over time. Several reasons are behind this, some related to the reporting mechanism (which includes estimations and operates with minimum thresholds), some related to actual developments in that industry. The values for these substances generally decreased in the EU-27, only increasing in eight Member States. Evidence is scarce for the interpretation of these emission data.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

This indicator tracks trends of industrial emissions of selected air pollutants. The indicator includes releases of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most significant greenhouse gas, acidifying pollutants (sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx)), and other pollutants that damage human health and the environment, such as particulate matter (PM10), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and heavy metals (Cadmium (Cd), Lead (Pb), and mercury (Hg). These trends are presented together with the trend of gross value added (GVA) by industry, as an indicator of the economic contribution of the sector. 

The aggregated EU-27 trends feature in Figure 1 while country specific trend changes are offered in Figure 2.

The geographical coverage comprises the 27-EU Member States (EU-27) (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden).

The temporal coverage is 2010-2019. Data were reported to the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR).


Emissions — percentage change with reference to 2010

Gross value added — percentage change with reference to 2010


Policy context and targets

Context description

Anthropogenic air emissions contribute to a wide range of detrimental effects for the environment and human health. While many human activities contribute to these emissions, industry is a very significant sources. This indicator presents substances where industry contribution is particularly relevant.

The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) require industry operators to submit, among other data, values for releases of pollutants to the atmosphere across 91 pollutants.

Air pollution and air quality are regulated through various mechanisms in the EU. Industrial air emissions operate with a dedicated policy, Directive 2010/75/EU on industrial emissions. This EU legislation imposes a case-by-case permit for large industrial operators which contains emission limit values to air. These emissions, when above certain annual load thresholds, are to be reported to the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (e-PRTR).

This indicator is useful to capture how the industrial emission policy contributes to a progressive reduction of air releases in Europe. Due to the way the reporting mechanisms are designed, this indicator reflects emissions from large operators and only when annual releases are above the legally established thresholds. In other words, the indicator tracks emissions significant at a European scale and does not cover emissions from smaller operators.


No target is specified.

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified



Methodology for indicator calculation

Queries are applied to the Industrial Emissions Database (where the E-PRTR is included) to extract and aggregate emissions reported individually for each operator in Europe to produce figure 1 and 2. Emissions are aggregated at country and European level, indexed to 2010 levels and a trend line is then constructed.

For Fig. 1, the gross added value is indexed to 2010 levels and a trend line constructed.

Gap filling was performed to complete data missing for some countries in the last years of the timeline. Future versions will account to more complete datasets as countries resolve these issues as time passes by.

While E-PRTR contains data since 2007, the earlier years are known as incomplete and of lesser quality. This has led to the indicator showing data as from 2010.



EC, undated, ‘Industrial policy’ ( accessed 5 October 2020.

EC, 2020a, ‘EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)’ ( accessed 30 July 2020.

EC, 2020b, ‘Industrial Emissions Directive’ ( accessed 5 October 2020.

EC, 2020c, ‘Making Europe’s businesses future-ready: A new industrial strategy for a globally competitive, green and digital Europe’ ( accessed 5 October 2020.

EEA, 2019a, ‘National emissions reported to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP Convention)’, European Environment Agency ( accessed 2 August 2019.

EEA, 2019b, ‘The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR), Member States reporting under Article 7 of Regulation (EC) No 166/2006’, European Environment Agency ( accessed 5 October 2020.

EU, 2013, Regulation (EU) No 525/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on a mechanism for monitoring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions and for reporting other information at national and Union level relevant to climate change and repealing Decision No 280/2004/EC Text with EEA relevance (OJ L 165, 18.6.2013, p. 13-40).

Methodology for gap filling

No gap filling was conducted.

Methodology references



Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 055
  • INDP 003
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled once per year
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage




Filed under:
Filed under: industry, pollution
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