EU to exceed nitrogen oxides emission ceiling, mostly due to road transport

News Published 01 Jun 2011 Last modified 21 Jun 2016
3 min read
The EU-27 and its Member States must meet legally binding limits for four air pollutants set by the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive) to protect human health and the environment. The annual status report released today by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows that while EU-27 emissions for three air pollutants are projected to meet the ceilings, nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions for the EU-27 as a whole will exceed its ceiling by 17 %. Ten Member States expect to miss their respective NOx ceilings.

The NEC Directive status report 2010 documents the most recent emissions (2009) and projection information (2010) for the four pollutants covered by the directive: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3). The pollutants covered by the report harm both human health and the environment by contributing to the formation of ground-level ozone and particulate matter and leading to acidification and eutrophication.  

The NOx challenge

The road transport sector bears most of the blame for the anticipated exceedances, contributing to more than 40 % of total EU-27 NOx emissions in 2009. Furthermore, although emissions from the sector have decreased since 1990, the reduction over the past 2 decades has not been as large as originally anticipated. This is partly because the sector has grown more than expected and partly because vehicle emission standards have not always delivered the anticipated level of NOx reductions.

Even taking into account NOx control measures already in place within the Member States, the NOx emissions for the EU-27 are still projected to be 6 % above the aggregated Member States limits (known as the Annex I ceilings) and 17 % above the stricter ceiling for the European Union as a whole (the Annex II ceiling) set for 2010.

Some Member States, such as the Netherlands and Slovenia, expect to exceed their respective NOx ceilings by only small margins (less than 5 %). In contrast, Germany and France expect to exceed their ceilings by 328 kilotonnes and 275 kilotonnes respectively - equivalent to exceedances of 31 % and 34 %. Austria, while expecting lower surpluses in absolute terms, anticipates exceeding its ceilings by an even larger margin (40 %).

Other pollutants mostly on track

For the other three pollutants (SO2 – primarily from fuel combustion for electricity generation and by industry, NMVOCs – from the use of solvents and from the road transport sector, NH3 – mainly from agriculture) the EU-27 projections are all below the emissions ceilings defined by the directive. Most Member States also anticipate meeting their emission ceilings for these pollutants as displayed in the following table.

Overview of 'with measures' (WM) projections (1) reported by Member States

Member State











Czech Republic




































United Kingdom











A '' indicates that the Member State anticipates meeting its emission ceiling for a pollutant, while 'x' indicates that a ceiling is expected to be exceeded.

(1) Member State emission ceilings are compared against reported 'with measures' (WM) projections. WM projections take into account currently implemented and adopted policies and measures. The projections data can be considered as preliminary estimates of emissions in 2010. More detailed emissions data for the year 2010 will be reported at the end of 2011. These data will allow a more reliable assessment of the emission reductions achieved by Member States.  

What next?

The European Commission has recently launched a comprehensive review of its air policy, building on the 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution (TSAP) and Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) initiatives. This follows discussions and agreement within the Commission that further actions to improve air quality are a pressing need. The Commission plans to focus on a number of immediate measures and a more comprehensive review of EU's air policy by 2013 at the latest.

This revision of policy, including the NEC Directive, is expected to propose stricter emission ceilings for 2020 in order to protect health and the environment further. It could also, for the first time, introduce a ceiling for fine particulate matter (PM2.5). In the absence of new legislation, however, the NEC Directive remains in force and requires that future emissions stay below national ceilings also after 2010.

Separately, discussions over setting new 2020 national emission ceilings for European countries have started within the UNECE’s Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.

NEC data viewer

The EEA publishes the data from the NEC Directive status report 2010 in an air pollutant emissions data viewer, a searchable web-based interface that simplifies access and analysis. The data viewer allows users to compare emissions from different countries and their proximity to the emission ceilings.