Air pollution in Europe: Countries struggle to meet emission limits due to emissions from agriculture and transport

News Published 03 Jul 2017 Last modified 30 Jun 2017
2 min read
Photo: © Jean-Jacques Poirault, ImaginAIR/EEA
Eleven EU Member States breached air pollution ceilings in 2015 mostly due to high emissions from agricultural and transport sources, according to new data and a briefing released today by the European Environment Agency (EEA). The briefing includes information on countries’ 2015 emissions and national ceilings for different pollutants.

Member States recently reported the first information under the new EU National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive (2016/2284/EU). The EEA briefing ‘NEC Directive reporting status 2017’, gives a progress update on how Member States are meeting their emission ceilings under the NEC Directive. The briefing also provides an assessment of the projected emissions reported for 2020 and 2030 in relation to the Member States’ reduction commitments for those years set in the new NEC Directive.

The new NEC Directive restricts emissions for five key air pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), sulphur dioxide (SO2) ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These pollutants contribute to poor air quality, which remains the single largest environmental health risk in Europe, causing respiratory and heart problems and shortening lifespans. They also can harm vegetation and sensitive ecosystems.

Key findings

  • On the basis of unadjusted emission totals, the following 11 Member States reported exceedances of their NEC Directive national ceilings for one or more pollutants in 2015: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Spain and Sweden.
  • Emission ceilings for nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3) were exceeded by different combinations of six Member States for each pollutant.
  • Projected emissions reported by 23 Member States show that 18 do not consider themselves on track towards meeting their reduction commitments set for 2020 for NOx, NH3, NMVOCs, SO2 and/or PM2.5 on the basis of the policies and measures they currently have in place. Similarly, 22 Member States are not on track to meet one or more of their 2030 commitments.
  • For the EU as a whole, however, emissions for three pollutants (NMVOCs, SO2, and fine particulate matter PM2.5) are already below the EU’s own 2020 emission reduction commitment set for these pollutants. Only for NOx a further, more significant, reduction is required in order to meet the 2020 reduction commitment. More substantial reductions are still needed for all pollutants if the EU is to achieve its 2030 emission reduction commitments.

Further details, including country- and pollutant-specific information, are available in the briefing.

Adjustment process

The new NEC Directive establishes a process that allows Member States to ‘adjust’ the reported emissions in their inventories downwards for compliance checking with the emission ceilings if certain conditions are met. Nine Member States have requested their data be ‘adjusted’ in this manner; the European Commission is presently reviewing the applications. The numbers of exceeded ceilings described in the EEA’s briefing will be lower if these applications are approved later in 2017.


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