Emissions of sulphur oxides and ozone-forming pollutants fall significantly

News Published 09 Jul 2010 Last modified 21 Jun 2016
3 min read
The European Union air pollutant emission inventory report compiled by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows that the EU-27 has cut sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions by 78 % since 1990. The decline was particularly sharp during the latest reporting year, falling 20 % in 2008 compared to 2007. The emissions of three ozone precursors — CO, NMVOCs and NOx — also continued the downward trend.

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

SOx is an important air pollutant that acidifies ecosystems and forms harmful fine particulate matter in the atmosphere. Since the early 1990s a combination of measures has helped reduce emissions, including introducing low sulphur fuels and fitting pollution control equipment in European industrial facilities. Lower emissions from public power plants in Bulgaria, Poland and Spain contributed to the 20 % annual emission reduction in 2008. Spain, for example, reduced its SOx emissions by using less coal to generate electricity and instead relying on natural gas and renewables such as wind, photovoltaics and biomass.

CO, NMVOCs and NOx are main contributors to the formation of ground-level ozone, a harmful pollutant that can trigger respiratory problems, contribute to premature mortality and also damage plants, reducing agricultural crop yields. EU-27 emissions of these ozone precursors fell in 2008 in a number of Member States, including France, Spain and UK, particularly from public power plants. Emissions from road transport also fell significantly in these Member States, partly reflecting reduced freight transport on roads in the second half of 2008 due to economic recession. 

Other key findings

  • In 2008 EU-27 emissions of fine particulate matter fell by 13 % (PM2.5) and 8 % (PM10) compared to 2000. Emission trends have not improved much in the last five years, with emissions actually increasing slightly (by 0.2 %) in 2008 compared to the previous year.
  • NOx emissions from road transport have decreased by 40 % 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. Road transport nevertheless remains the most important source of the ozone precursors NOx and CO, contributing 41 % and 34 % of EU-27 emissions in 2008.
  • In contrast to the road transport sector, NOx emissions from aviation have increased significantly. Since 1990, the share of total EU-27 emissions that derive from domestic and international flights has trebled to more than 5 %.
  • For the first time, the annual EU inventory report also presents information on emissions of toxic heavy metals. EU-27 emissions of mercury, cadmium and lead have dropped by 60 % or more since 1990, reflecting improved control of emissions from sources such as electricity production, industry and road transport. However, the rate of decrease in total emissions of these three toxic heavy metals has slowed over the last five years.


EU-27 emission trends for the main air pollutants, particulate matter and heavy metals (European Union air pollutant emission inventory report, p.7)

Figure ES.1 EU-27 emission trends for the main air pollutants, particulate matter and heavy metals.


What is the LRTAP Convention?

The Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) addresses some of the major environmental problems caused by air pollution in the member countries of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The Convention has 51 Parties and aims to limit and, as far as possible, gradually reduce and prevent air pollution including long-range transboundary air pollution. The EEA assists the EU by preparing the 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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