Recession contributes to air pollutant emissions decrease in 2009

News Published 27 Jul 2011 Last modified 20 Feb 2017
3 min read
Photo: © dmcneil
Emissions of almost all main air pollutants fell across the EU-27 in 2009, according to the latest annual European Union air pollutant emission inventory report compiled by the European Environment Agency (EEA). Some pollutants decreased significantly compared to the previous year, with analysis showing economic recession to be an important factor in this reduction. The drop was most evident for sulphur oxides (SOx), with emissions falling by 21 % between 2008 and 2009.

The annual EU-27 emission inventory reported to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) Convention confirms a long-term trend of decline for most air pollutants.

Sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions have fallen the most since 1990 (–80 %), followed by carbon monoxide (CO) (–62 %), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) (–55 %) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)(–44 %).

For several pollutants the decline was particularly sharp between 2008 and 2009. For example, SOx emissions fell by 21 % mainly as a result of the economic recession which led to reduced energy demand and hence lower emissions from public power plants in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Spain. Similarly, emissions of other key pollutants from the electricity generating sector also fell significantly in 2009 – for example, NOx and primary particulate matter (PM) both by around 10 % between 2008 and 2009.

However, it is worth noting that although emissions within the EU have fallen significantly, air quality can still be quite low, particularly in urban areas.

Other key findings

  • Emissions of NOx from road transport have decreased by 42 % since 1990, mainly due to the introduction of three‑way catalytic converters in passenger cars and stricter regulation of emissions from heavy goods vehicles across Europe. Nevertheless, road transport remains the most important source of the ozone precursors NOx and CO, contributing 42 % and 34 % respectively in the EU-27 in 2009. Moreover, NOx emissions from road transport have not decreased as much as originally anticipated, as highlighted by another recent EEA report.
  • In contrast to the road transport sector, NOx emissions from aviation have increased significantly since 1990. Emissions from both domestic and international aviation increased by 79 % between 1990 and 2009, however between 2008 and 2009 these emissions fell by 6%, reflecting lower aviation activity as a result of the recession.
  • Large proportions of certain pollutants come from so-called ‘diffuse’ sources, which are typically emitted over large areas from often indistinct sources. These can be difficult to abate, and include NOx and primary particulate matter (PM) from road transport, CO and PM from households, and ammonia (NH3) from agriculture.
  • In addition, the report notes the difficulty of compiling and comparing emission estimates for the EU-27 when Member States do not report complete data.  


What is the LRTAP Convention?

The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) aims to limit and, as far as possible, gradually reduce and prevent air pollution including long-range transboundary air pollution. The 51 Parties of the Convention, including the EU, are obliged to report emissions data for a large number of air pollutants. The main air pollutants and their effect on human health and the environment are listed here.

The EEA assists the EU by preparing the emissions inventory to be reported under the LRTAP Convention each year.

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 comparison of emissions from different countries and activities.

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