Eleven Member States exceed air emissions limits under LRTAP Convention

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News Published 26 Jul 2012 Last modified 21 Jun 2016
4 min read
Photo: © Erwyn van der Meer
Emissions of most air pollutants have fallen over the last two decades in Europe. But many Member States have exceeded internationally-agreed pollutant limits set to protect human health and the environment, according to a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA). Road transport, households, power plants, agricultural activities and certain industry sectors continue to emit significant amounts of air pollution.

In the last two decades we have cut the amount of pollution going into Europe's air. Regulation both in the EU and internationally works when it is properly implemented. The fact that many countries missed their emissions ceilings in 2010 shows we need to continue our efforts to safeguard European citizens' health.

Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director


In 1999, many of the countries that now comprise the European Union committed to cut emissions of air pollutants under the Gothenburg Protocol of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP Convention). The EEA's annual "European Union emission inventory report 1990-2010 under the UNECE LRTAP Convention" presents a summary of the main emission trends over the past decades. It shows that 11 countries exceeded the 2010 'ceilings' for the four important air pollutants regulated under the Protocol. These pollutants can lead to breathing problems, acid rain and eutrophication.

"In the last two decades we have cut the amount of pollution going into Europe's air," EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said. "Regulation both in the EU and internationally works when it is properly implemented. The fact that many countries missed their emissions ceilings in 2010 shows we need to continue our efforts to safeguard European citizens' health."

Main findings

  • Among the 11 EU Member States that exceeded the international emissions ceilings, Denmark and Spain exceeded three ceilings (for nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3)) while Germany exceeded two ceilings (NOx and NMVOCs). Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden (all NOx) and Finland (ammonia) exceeded one ceiling.
  • Of the main air pollutants, sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions have fallen the most since 1990 (-82 %), followed by carbon monoxide (CO) (-62 %), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) (–56 %), nitrogen oxides (NOx) (–47 %) and ammonia (NH3) (–28 %). Emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) have fallen by 15 % since 2000.
  • Road transport, households, electricity generating plants, agriculture and certain industry sectors are collectively the most important sources of several different pollutants.
  • Despite long-term downward trends, in 2010 Member States reported increased emissions of many heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants compared to 2009 – for example, lead increased by 9.1 %, cadmium by 7.5 %, arsenic by 4.9 % and chromium by 12.6 %. These increases were partly due to growing emissions from households and certain industrial sectors.

Big cuts in air pollutant emissions over two decades

A combination of different measures have reduced emissions of SOx by 82 % between 1990 and 2010. This success can be attributed to desulphurisation technology installed in many industrial sources, and EU directives which led to sulphur reduction in some liquid fuels. This cut is also partly due to power stations and industry switching from high sulphur-containing solid and liquid fuels to low-sulphur fuels such as natural gas.

Emissions of NOx have almost halved between 1990 and 2010. The 47 % reduction of NOx emissions over this period was largely due to the introduction of the three-way catalytic converter in petrol vehicles, as well as reductions from industry as a result of tighter controls on emissions.

Together with NOx, emissions of two other main air pollutants responsible for the formation of harmful ground-level ozone have dropped significantly since 1990. Carbon monoxide fell by 62 %, NMVOCs fell by 56 %. This improvement was also helped by improved vehicle catalysts in road transport.

The agricultural sector is responsible for the vast majority of ammonia emissions – 94 % in 2010. NH3 fell by 28 % between 1990 and 2010, although the most reductions occurred in the early 1990s and emissions have since been rather stable. The largest reductions have been reported by Poland, the Netherlands and Germany. All other countries except Cyprus and Spain also reported decreases. The report attributes reductions in ammonia emissions largely to better animal manure and fertiliser management techniques.


The Gothenburg Protocol of the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) Convention sets emission ceilings for four pollutants (NOx, NMVOC, SOx and NH3) to be achieved by 2010. The Gothenburg Protocol has been signed by most of the European Union Member States (excluding Estonia and Malta), and by EEA member countries Norway and Switzerland.

In May 2012 the protocol was amended to include, amongst other changes, new emission reduction commitments for 2020 for NOx, NMVOC, SOx, NH3 and also PM2.5. The amended protocol has not yet entered into force.

For the EU Member States, the 2010 ceilings set by the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive are either equal to or more ambitious than the Gothenburg Protocol's ceilings. For both, countries must also meet the ceilings in each year after 2010.

However, reporting by Member States under the Gothenburg Protocol and the NEC Directive can differ. For example, some countries choose to report emissions from additional sources under the Gothenburg Protocol, leading to more sources than those submitted under the NEC Directive. This explains for example why Denmark exceeds its emission ceilings for NMVOC and NH3 under the Gothenburg Protocol but not under the NEC Directive as was documented in EEA's recent NEC Directive status report.

Moreover, a number of countries have reported more recent data under the Gothenburg Protocol than were available when EEA's assessed the emissions data reported under the NEC Directive. In the case of Finland, updated emissions data for 2010 are below  their Gothenburg Protocol emission ceilings and in contrast to the earlier results presented in the NEC Directive status report, are also now lower than their NEC Directive ceiling for that 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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