The air pollutants ammonia (NH3), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and sulphur oxides (SOx) damage human health and the environment, so reducing their anthropogenic emissions is a priority of both EU legislation and international air quality legislation. Since 2005, emissions of all five pollutants have declined: SOx emissions decreasing significantly by 80% and NH3 emissions reducing only by 13%. Based on progress so far, it is clear that more effort, particularly in the agriculture, transport and energy sectors, is essential if the EU is to fulfil longer term reduction commitments.

Anthropogenic emissions of the main air pollutants — ammonia (NH3), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOX), fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and sulphur oxides (SOX) — contribute to air quality problems in Europe, with damaging effects on human health, vegetation and ecosystems. To address this, and meet the EU’s obligations under the Gothenburg Protocol of the Air Convention , the National Emission reduction Commitments Directive (NECD) aims to reduce emissions of these main air pollutants.

The NECD sets legally binding Member State specific percentage reduction commitments for these five air pollutants, compared with 2005 levels, for 2020-2029 and more ambitious from 2030 onwards.

Between 2005 and 2021, emissions of four of these pollutants declined considerably in the EU-27 Member States: SOX emissions by 80%, NOX by 47%, NMVOCs by 29% and PM2.5 by 28%. Decreases in emissions from the energy, industry and transport sectors are largely responsible for these declines, partly as a result of sector-specific emission limit values set by other EU legislation, such as the Industrial Emissions Directive and Euro standards for vehicles. NH3 emissions also declined, but only by 13% overall, with emissions actually increasing slightly between 2013 and 2017 and showing a stagnating trend in many Member States. This reflects a lack of progress in the agriculture sector, which is responsible for more than 90% of NH3 emissions.

Based on progress made so far several EU Member States are not on track to meet their reduction commitments for 2020-2029 and even more at risk of non-complience by 2030, with NH3, NOx and PM2.5 presenting the main challenges. Therefore, significant effort and more effective policies, particularly in the agriculture, transport and energy sectors, are essential for the EU Member States to meet their long-term emission reduction commitments and the targets of the European Green Deal and Zero Pollution Action plan to reduce air pollution to levels that do not pose risks to human health or the environment.

Under the NECD, all EU Member States must report annual emissions inventories for the five main air pollutants. Between 2005 and 2021, all Member States reduced emissions of NMVOCs, NOX, SOX and PM2.5, while NH3 emissions increased in Austria, Ireland, Lithuania, and Malta.

Almost all Member States except for Belgium and Finland need to lower emissions for at least one pollutant to reach their 2030 commitments. The greatest challenge will be to reduce NH3 emissions as only five Member States met their 2030 emission reduction commitments in 2021.