Indicator Specification

Energy-related emissions of acidifying substances

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: ENER 006
Published 30 Apr 2012 Last modified 24 Nov 2016
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This page was archived on 12 Nov 2013 with reason: Content not regularly updated
Emissions of SO 2 and NOx (also NH 3 where applicable) in 1000 tonnes.
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Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

Energy production and use accounts for the majority of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions, but only a small fraction of ammonia (NH3) emissions. These pollutants all contribute to acid deposition. Acidification is caused by emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ammonia into the atmosphere, and their subsequent chemical reactions and deposition on ecosystems and materials. Deposition of acidifying substances causes damage to ecosystems, buildings and materials (corrosion). The adverse effect associated with each individual pollutant depends on its potential to acidify and the individual properties of the ecosystems and materials. The deposition of acidifying substance still often exceeds the critical loads of the ecosystems across Europe. Efforts to reduce the effects of acidification are therefore focused on reducing the emissions of acidifying substances. NOx and SO2 can react in the atmosphere and transform into small-diameter particulate matter which when inhaled, can have direct or indirect impacts on human health causing harmful effects such as respiratory problems. See EN07 for more information about energy-related particulate emissions. NOx is also a tropospheric ozone precursor that reacts in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight to form ozone which, in high concentrations, can lead to significant health impacts and damage to crops and other vegetation (see also EN05). Furthermore, an excessive input of nitrogen nutrients from atmospheric deposition or via run-off following atmospheric deposition can lead to eutrophication of waters.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

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, and due to be reviewed by 2013.
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, SO2 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.
    • Directive 2010/75/EC on industrial emissions
      Directive 2010/75/EC on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) The IED is the successor of the IPPC Directive and in essence, it is about minimising pollution from various industrial sources throughout the European Union. Operators of industrial installations operating activities covered by Annex I of the IED are required to obtain an integrated permit from the authorities in the EU countries. About 50.000 installations were covered by the IPPC Directive and the IED will cover some new activities which could mean the number of installations rising slightly.
    • UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution
      UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.
    • WHITE PAPER European transport policy for 2010: time to decide
      The need for integration of transport in sustainable development

    Key policy question

    Are energy-related emissions of acidifying substances decreasing?

    Specific policy question

    How rapidly are the energy-related (except transport) emissions of acidifying substances declining?

    Specific policy question

    How rapidly are transport-related emissions of acidifying substances declining?



    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 ( Recalculations of Member States data may happen. These are fully documented in the EEA report

    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 Industries: emissions from public heat and electricity generation, oil refining,  production of solid fuels, extraction and distribution of solid fossil fuels and geothermal energy;
    • 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 (other) transport: railways, domestic shipping, certain aircraft movements, and non-road mobile machinery used in agriculture & forestry;
    • Household and services: emissions principally occurring from fuel combustion in the services and household sectors;
    • Manufacturing and Constructions: emissions from combustion processes used in the manufacturing industry including boilers, gas turbines and stationary engines;
    • Other non-energy (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;

    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 Industries



    Fugitive emissions

    1B1, 1B2


    Road transport



    Non-road transport (non-road mobile machinery)

    1A3 (exl 1A3b)

    1A3a, 1A3c, 1A3d, 1A3e

    Industrial processes



    Other non-energy (Solvent and product use)

    3, 7A








    Household and services

    1A4ai, 1A4aii, 1A4bi, 1A5a

    1A4A, 1A4B

    Manufacturing / Construction



    Methodology for gap filling

    Methodology references

    • Methodology Reference EMEP/CORINAIR Emission Inventory Guidebook - 2009 This 2009 update of the emission inventory guidebook prepared by the UNECE/EMEP Task Force on Emissions Inventories and Projections provides a comprehensive guide to state-of-the-art atmospheric emissions inventory methodology. Its intention is to support reporting under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution and the EU National Emission Ceilings Directive.  
    • EMEP (2010). Transboundary, acidification, eutrophication and ground level ozone in Europe in 2008 This report has been prepared for the thirty-fourth session of the Steering Body to EMEP. It presents the progress of activities within EMEP in 2009 and 2010 in regard to acidification, eutrophication and ground level ozone. The status of transboundary depositions in Europe in 2008 is presented, and main differences with respect to other years are discussed. In addition, this year’s report describes preliminary studies on climate-chemistry couplings, as well as ongoing model development and evaluation efforts at MSC-W.

    Data specifications

    EEA data references

    Data sources in latest figures



    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

    Further work

    Short term work

    Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

    Long term work

    Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

    General metadata

    Responsibility and ownership

    EEA Contact Info

    Anca-Diana Barbu


    European Environment Agency (EEA)


    Indicator code
    ENER 006
    Version id: 4
    Primary theme: Energy Energy


    DPSIR: Pressure
    Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
    Filed under: energy
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