Indicator Assessment

Energy-related emissions of acidifying substances

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-130-en
  Also known as: ENER 006
Published 12 Aug 2011 Last modified 11 May 2021
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Energy-related emissions account for only 2% of NH3 emissions but 95% of NOx and SO2 emissions from the EEA-32 in 2008. They fell by 4%, 5% and 17% respectively between 2007 and 2008 in EEA32 countries (Since 1990, these energy related emissions declined by 35% and 75% for NOx and SO2 respectively but increased by 103% for NH3 in the EU-27 and declined by 30% (NOx) and 71% (SO2) and increased by 106% (NH3) in EEA-32 member countries. However as noted earlier the percentage of energy related NH3 emissions are insignificant compare dot the non-energy related NH3 emissions. Most of the total reduction in pollutants contributing to acid deposition since 1990 is accounted for by lower SO2 emissions from the energy-producing sector and lower NOx emissions from the transport sector. Despite significant progress and the EU-27 on not track to meet overall targets[1], further reductions are needed to improve remaining local and transboundary air pollution issues, and for ensuring that individual countries meet emissions ceiling targets under the National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NECD) and the UNECE Gothenburg Protocol.

[1] See Pollutant Specific Factsheet NOx

Contribution of different sectors (energy and non-energy) to total emissions of SO2, NOx, NH3, 2008, EEA-32

Note: The figue shows the contribution of different sectors (energy and non-energy) to total emissions of SO2, NOx, NH3, 2008, EEA-32

In the EEA32, energy related emissions declined by 30% (NOx) and 71% (SO2) but increased by 106% (NH3) between 1990 and 2008. NOx and SO2 emissions declined by 35% and 75% respectively but increased by 103% for NH3 in the EU27 within the same period. For NOx, all sources except for Household and services have decreased. SO2 emissions decreased significantly across all sectors (see Figure 1). NH3 emissions however increase significantly in 3 sectors, energy combustion, road transport and to a lesser extend in energy industries.

Energy-related emissions are the predominant sources of total NOx and SOx emissions in 2008, accounting for 95 % of all NOx and SO2 emissions, underlining the large contribution that energy production and use make to both local and transboundary air pollution. The non-energy related agriculture sector is the most important source of NH3, releasing the vast majority of NH3 (over 94%) in 2008. Emission reductions from agriculture since 1990 have been much lower than from energy-related sources (see Figure 1). 

Energy industries (such as public heat and electricity production) contribute over half of all SO2 (65%) and account for a quarter of total NOx (20%) emissions in 2008, and emissions have decreased by nearly 70% and 39% respectively since 1990 (see Figures 1 and 2). Much of this reduction is due to a decrease in SOx emissions. This reflects a general increase in the implementation of pollutant abatement technologies, a switch from coal to natural gas[1], an increased use of low sulphur fuels, and improved energy efficiency.

Combustion modification and flue-gas treatment have been used to reduce NOx emissions. One of the most common forms of combustion modification is to use low NOx burners, which typically can reduce NOx emissions by up to 40 %. Flue gas treatment such as selective catalytic reduction can also be used to remove NOx from the flue gases. NOx emissions from the transport sector are the largest source of energy-combustion emissions and reductions in this sector are largely due to the introduction of catalytic converters on new cars since the early 1990s. However, emission controls on vehicles, and in particular certain catalyst technologies in road vehicles, can increase the rate of N2O generation and thus of greenhouse gases.

Energy related SO2 emissions decreased significantly in most EEA member countries since 1990, with the highest overall reductions in Germany, Latvia and Slovenia (see Figure 3). Similarly, energy related NOx emissions decreased in 23 out of 32 countries since 1990, with the highest reduction occurring in the Czech Republic (64%) and Slovakia (57%). However, NH3 emissions increased in 24 out of 28 EEA member countries[2] in the same time period with large increases in Ireland (more than 50 times the 1990 value) and Slovenia (more than 30 time the 1990 value).  In both countries the large increase was primarily a result of an increase in road transport.

Many of the reductions reported here are a result of actions implemented as a result of various European policies and measures, including the IPPC Directive, the Large Combustion Plant Directive, vehicle EURO standards, and the EU National Emissions Ceilings Directive and Gothenburg Protocol. The EU-27 as a whole is on track to meet its NECD target to reduce emissions from SO2 and NH3 pollutants. However, many individual countries and the EU-27 as a whole currently anticipate missing their respective emission ceilings for NOx[3]


[1] The amount of sulphur in coal is much greater than that in other fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas.

[2] Iceland, Poland, Switzerland and Turkey did not report  either a 1990 or 2008 NH3 emission value and thus are excluded

[3] CSI 001 - Emissions of acidifying substances

Supporting information

Indicator definition

Emissions of SO2 and NOx (also NH3 where applicable) in 1000 tonnes.


Emissions kt


Policy context and targets

Context description

Several EU-wide emissions limits and targets exist for the reduction of total SO2, NOx and NH3 emissions, including the National Emissions Ceiling Directive (NECD; 2001/81/EC) and the UNECE LRTAP Convention Gothenburg Protocol under UNECE LRTAP Convention (UNECE 1999). This indicator provides relevant information for assessing the achievement of these targets and also for analyses performed within the European Commission’s Clean Air for Europe programme (CAFE). This thematic strategy on air quality was released in September 2005 (The CAFE Programme/implementation of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution,


The NEC Directive includes emission reduction targets that are slightly stricter than the targets set in the Gothenburg Protocol and requires the introduction of national emission ceilings for emissions of SO2, NOx and NH3 (and also for NMVOCs) in each Member State, as well as setting interim environmental objectives for reducing the exposure of ecosystems and human populations to damaging levels of the acid pollutants. Targets for the new Member States are temporary and are without prejudice to the on-going review of the NECD. A proposal for a revised NEC Directive (which will set 2020 emission ceiling targets for these acidifying pollutants), is expected in 2013. Targets for Bulgaria and Romania are provisional and not binding. Hence, the existing EU25 NECD Target has been used in the following analysis.

In terms of the energy sector, the most relevant NEC Directive targets for the EU-25 (exclude Romania and Bulgaria) as a whole are:

  • SO2: emissions reduction of 74 % by 2010 from 1990 levels
  • NOx: emissions reduction of 53 % by 2010 from 1990 levels
  • NH3 emissions are also an important source of acid deposition and have an emissions target under NEC (emissions reduction target of 15 % by 2010 from 1990 levels), but energy-related emissions of ammonia are insignificant, accounting for only 2.5 % of total EU-27 ammonia emissions in 2005. Agriculture is by far the largest contributing sector to EU ammonia emissions
  • Other key policies that have contributed to the reduction of acidifying emissions across Europe include:
    • The Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive (96/61/EC), which entered into force in 1999. It aims to prevent or minimise pollution of water, air and soil by industrial effluent and other waste from industrial installations, including energy industries, by defining basic obligations for operating licences or permits and by introducing targets, or benchmarks, for energy efficiency. It requires the application of Best Available Techniques in new installations (and for existing plants over 10 years, according to national legislation).
    • The Large Combustion Plant Directive (2001/80/EC) is important in reducing emissions of SO2, NOx and dust from combustion plants with a thermal capacity greater than 50 MW. The Directive sets emission limits for licensing of new plants and requires Member States to establish programmes for reducing total emissions. Emissions limits for all plants are also set under the IPPC Directive.


Emissions of NOx, SOx and NH3 are covered by the NECD and the Gothenburg Protocol to the UNECE LRTAP Convention. Both instruments contain emission ceilings (limits) that countries must meet by 2010. See CSI001

Related policy documents

  • Council Directive 96/61/EC (IPPC)
    Council Directive 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC). Official Journal L 257.
  • Directive 2001/80/EC, large combustion plants
    Directive 2001/80/EC 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
  • Directive 2001/81/EC, national emission ceilings
    Directive 2001/81/EC, on nation al emissions ceilings (NECD) for certain atmospheric pollutants. Emission reduction targets for the new EU10 Member States have been specified in the Treaty of Accession to the European Union 2003  [The Treaty of Accession 2003 of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia. AA2003/ACT/Annex II/en 2072] in order that they can comply with the NECD.
  • UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution
    UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.


Methodology for indicator calculation

Indicator is based on officially reported national total and sectoral emissions to UNECE/EMEP (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe/Co-operative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe) Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP Convention), submission 2010. Recommended methodologies for emission inventory estimation are compiled in the EMEP/CORINAIR Atmospheric Emission Inventory guidebook, EEA Copenhagen (EEA, 2009). Base data are available from the EEA Data Service ( and the EMEP web site ( Where necessary, gaps in reported data are filled by ETC/ACC using simple interpolation techniques (see below). The final gap-filled data used in this indicator is available from the EEA Data Service (


Base data, reported in NFR are aggregated into the following EEA sector codes to obtain a common reporting format across all countries and pollutants:

    • Energy production and distribution: emissions from public heat and electricity generation, oil refining,  production of solid fuels, extraction and distribution of solid fossil fuels and geothermal energy;
    • Energy use in industry: emissions from combustion processes used in the manufacturing industry including boilers, gas turbines and stationary engines;
    • Industrial processes: emissions derived from non-combustion related processes such as the production of minerals, chemicals and metal production;
    • Road transport: light and heavy duty vehicles, passenger cars and motorcycles;
    • Non-road transport: railways, domestic shipping, certain aircraft movements, and non-road mobile machinery used in agriculture & forestry;
    • Commercial, institutional and households: emissions principally occurring from fuel combustion in the services and household sectors;
    • Solvent and product use: non-combustion related emissions mainly in the services and households sectors including activities such as paint application, dry-cleaning and other use of solvents;
    • Agriculture: manure management, fertiliser application, field-burning of agricultural wastes
    • Waste: incineration, waste-water management;
    • Other: emissions included in national total for entire territory not allocated to any other sector


The following table shows the conversion of Nomenclature for Reporting (NFR) sector codes used for reporting by countries into EEA sector codes:

EEA classification Non-GHGs (NFR) GHG (CRF)
National totals National total National totals without LUCF
Energy production and distribution 1A1, 1A3e, 1B 1A1
Energy use in industry 1A2 1A2
Road transport 1A3b 1A3b
Non-road transport (non-road mobile machinery) 1A3 (exl 1A3b) 1A3a, 1A3c, 1A3d, 1A3e
Industrial processes 2 2
Solvent and product use 3  
Agriculture 4 4
Waste 6 6
Commercial, institutional and households 1A4ai, 1A4aii, 1A4bi, 1A4bii, 1A4ci, 1A4cii, 1A5a, 1A5b 1A4, 1A5
Other 7 3 + 7


Methodology for gap filling

An improved gap-filling methodology used in compiling this year's EU‑27 emission inventory means that for the first time a complete EU‑27 time series trend for the main air pollutants (NOx, SOx, NMVOC, NH3 and CO) can be reported to the LRTAP Convention. For the remaining pollutants, one or more Member States did not report emissions for any year meaning that gap-filling could not be applied. For these pollutants, therefore, the aggregated EU data are not yet complete and are likely to underestimate true emissions. See section 1.4.2 Data gaps and gap-filling in European Union emission inventory report 1990 — 2008 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)[1]

Methodology references

No methodology references available.



Methodology uncertainty

Officially reported data following agreed procedures and Emission Inventory Guidebook (EEA 2009), e.g. regarding source sector split.  The incomplete reporting and resultant extrapolation may obscure some trends.

Data sets uncertainty

The uncertainties of total sulphur dioxide emission estimates in Europe are relatively low, as the sulphur emitted mainly comes from the fuel burnt and therefore can be accurately estimated. However, because of the need for interpolation to account for missing data the complete dataset used here will have higher uncertainty. EMEP has compared modelled (which include emission data as one of the model parameters) and measured concentrations throughout Europe (EMEP 2005). From these studies the uncertainties associated with the modelled annual averages for a specific point in time have been estimated in the order of ± 30 %. This is consistent with an inventory uncertainty of ±10 % (with additional uncertainties arising from the other model parameters, modelling methodologies, and the air quality measurement data etc). In contrast, NOx emission estimates in Europe are thought to have higher uncertainty, as the NOx emitted comes both from the fuel burnt and the combustion air and so cannot be estimated accurately from fuel nitrogen alone. EMEP has compared modelled and measured concentrations throughout Europe (EMEP 2005). From these studies differences for individual monitoring stations of more than a factor of two have been found. This is consistent with an inventory of national annual emissions having an uncertainty of ±30% or greater (there are also uncertainties in the air quality measurements and especially the modelling). For some countries, reported time-series emissions data may be inconsistent. This may occur where for example different inventory reporting definitions have been used in different years and/or where changes made to estimation methodologies have not been applied back to 1990. For all emissions the trend is likely to be much more accurate than individual absolute annual values - the annual values are not independent of each other.

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
  • ENER 006
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage



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