Air pollutant emissions declining, but still above limits

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News Published 02 Jul 2015 Last modified 21 Jun 2016
2 min read
Photo: © Andrzej Bochenski, ImaginAIR/EEA
Emissions of most air pollutants decreased in 2013, confirming the long-term downward trend in Europe since 1990. But many countries are still exceeding internationally-agreed pollutant limits, set to protect human health and the environment, according to a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The annual European Union emission inventory report 1990-2013 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) confirms a long-term downward trend for most air pollutants. For the first time, this year’s report also documents black carbon (BC) emissions, an air pollutant which is also an important short lived climate forcer.

Across the EU-28, sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions have fallen the most since 1990 (87% reduction), followed by carbon monoxide (CO) (66%), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) (59%) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) (54%). NH3 emissions have declined less since 1990 than emissions of the other main pollutants (27%). The rate at which emissions are decreasing for these pollutants has, however, slowed over the last decade.

The Gothenburg Protocol to the UNECE LRTAP Convention contains emissions reduction commitments that have to be met from 2010 onwards for the pollutants NOx, NMVOCs, SOx and NH3. In addition to emissions reduction commitments specified for individual countries, the protocol also specifies reduction commitments for the EU-15.

Further key findings

  • Emissions of primary PM10 and PM2.5 particulate matter both declined by around 20% between 2000 and 2013. For the 19 Member States that reported BC emissions for the first time, two thirds reported decreased emissions since 1990.
  • Emissions of lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd) and mercury (Hg), dioxins and furans, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have also dropped substantially since 1990, in the order of 70% or more.
  • The EU-15 met its limits for emissions of the four pollutants addressed under the Gothenburg Protocol. However, eight EU Member States exceeded one of their international emissions ceilings in 2013, while Austria (NOx and NH3), Ireland (NOx and NMVOCs) and Germany (NMVOCs and NH3) exceeded two ceilings.
  • Five Member States (Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland and Luxembourg) reported NOx emissions higher than their Gothenburg ceilings while six Member States (Austria, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Croatia) exceeded their NH3 ceiling. Three Member States (Denmark, Germany and Ireland) exceeded their NMVOCs ceilings.
  • The EEA member countries Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, also have emissions ceilings specified under the Gothenburg Protocol. In 2013, Liechtenstein exceeded two ceilings (NOx and NH3) and Norway one ceiling (NH3). This year, Switzerland complied with all its ceilings.

Background information

Apart from the emissions of NOx, NMVOCs, SOx and NH3, parties to the LRTAP Convention are required to report data for numerous other air pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM) and black carbon (BC), and selected heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The main air pollutants and their effect on human health and the environment are summarised in the EEA’s Air Quality 2014 report.

The EU National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive contains ceilings that are either equal to or more ambitious than those set out in the Gothenburg Protocol. The EEA recently published its annual assessment of the progress being made by Member States to meet their commitments under the NEC Directive.

Air pollutant emissions data viewer

The EEA publishes the data from the inventory report in the air pollutant emissions data viewer, a searchable web-based interface that simplifies access and analysis. The data viewer shows emission trends and graphics for the main sectors and allows for comparison of emissions from different countries and activities.


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