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Emissions of most harmful air pollutants dropped in 2018, marking EU progress under UN Convention

News Published 23 Jul 2020 Last modified 23 Jul 2020
2 min read
Photo: © Arif Miletli, Sustainably Yours /EEA
Emissions of the five most harmful air pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3) reduced across the European Union between 2017 and 2018 according to updated data published today by the European Environment Agency (EEA). The data is from the annual EU emission inventory report sent to the UNECE Air Convention (Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution - CLRTAP).

The EEA report confirms the overall trend of steady but slow progress by EU Member States (and including the United Kingdom for the period when it was a member of the EU) since 1990 in reducing the emissions of the main air pollutants present in Europe. In all, 26 pollutants are monitored in the report sent by the EU to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Between 2017 and 2018, emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), sulphur oxides (SOX), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), carbon monoxide (CO) and ammonia (NH3) dropped by 4.1%, 2.0%, 6.7%, 3.8%, 4.3%, and 1.6%, respectively, for the EU as a whole. Wider differences were reported by Member States, with increased emissions of certain pollutants occurring in a number of individual countries.

In 2018, the residential and household sector, one of the main emitting sectors for several pollutants, emitted 61% of all polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), 51% of all primary PM2.5, and 41% of all dioxins and furans to the air in the EU. As in past years, around 93% of all NH3 emissions came from agriculture. Road transport was responsible for 39% of all NOx emissions, followed by the energy production and distribution (16%) and the commercial, institutional and households (14%) sectors. Energy production and distribution which includes emissions from power plants, was also responsible for 41% of all mercury and 48% of all SOX emissions. These figures reflect emissions data for 1990-2018 and do not take the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown into account.

The EU Air Convention report tracks the emissions of key air pollutants over past years. It is submitted annually by the EU to the UNECE under the requirements of the Gothenburg Protocol to the Air Convention, which aims to limit, and as far as possible, gradually reduce and prevent air pollution. The protocol also sets emission limits for a range of air pollutants that have to be met from 2010 onwards and emissions reduction commitments for 2020 and beyond.

The EU’s National Emission reduction Commitments in the (NEC) Directive, transposes the EU obligations under the Gothenburg Protocol into EU legislation. The NEC Directive sets emission reduction commitments for five main air pollutants for 2020-2029 and more ambitious obligations for 2030 onwards. The EEA recently highlighted the latest information reported separately by Member States concerning the NEC Directive. Air pollution is the single largest environmental risk to human health in Europe, contributing to chronic and serious diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular problems and lung cancer, and shortening lifespans. Poor air quality caused by air pollution can also harm vegetation and ecosystems. Moreover, several air pollutants also contribute to climate change.

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