EU to exceed air pollutant limit due to growth in road transport

News Published 28 Nov 2008 Last modified 21 Jun 2016
3 min read
Despite significant emission reductions in recent years, only 11 EU Member States expect to remain within their emission limits for all four air pollutants set by the EU National Emission Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive). The nitrogen oxides ceiling remains the most difficult to comply with. This is partly due to the fact that demand for road transport has grown faster than anticipated.

The NEC Directive status report by the European Environment Agency presents country-specific and EU-wide information for the four pollutants covered by the directive: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3). Preliminary results were reported in May this year.

The NOx challenge

Even taking into account NOx control measures already in place within the Member States, the NOx emissions for the EU-27 as a whole are still projected to be 9 % above the aggregated Member State limits (known as the Annex I ceiling) and 20 % above the stricter ceiling for the European Community as a whole (the Annex II ceiling) set for 2010. Some Member States including the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany expect to emit only slightly more NOx than their ceilings. Others, such as Ireland, Austria and Spain, are projected to miss substantially their targets by as much as up to 50 %.

This is partly due to higher-than-expected growth in road transport that has occurred since the ceilings were set. Moreover, the estimated gains from policy measures, which were in discussion at the time, have proven less effective than originally anticipated (e.g. the effectiveness of certain vehicle emission controls).

Such factors have led several Member States to change their projections in the last few years and announce that they now expect to miss their NOx targets. However, Belgium and Germany have reported plans to implement additional measures which may allow them to comply with their 2010 emissions ceilings for NOx. The other Member States which are not on track will also need to develop and present such plans.

Other ceilings on track

For the other three pollutants (SO2, NMVOCs, NH3), most EU Member States are expected to reduce their emissions beyond their commitments. As a result, the EU as a whole is expected to register substantial reductions. In the case of NMVOCs, EU-27 emissions are projected to be 9 % below the Annex I ceiling, but 6 % above the stricter Annex II ceiling.

The SO2 projections fare even better, being 31 % below Annex I and 27 % below Annex II ceilings. With 19 EU Member States already below their ceilings, the EU-27’s NH3 emissions are also projected to 'overachieve', being 7 % below the aggregate ceiling.

Overview of 'with measures projections' as reported by the EU-27 Member States in 2007

(A '√' indicates that the Member State anticipates meeting or exceeding its respective emission ceiling, while 'x' indicates that a ceiling will not be met without introduction of future measures to reduce emissions)

Member State NOX NMVOC SO2 NH3
Austria x
Belgium x
Czech Republic
Denmark x x
France x x
Germany x x
Hungary x
Ireland x
Italy x
Luxembourg (1) - - - -
Netherlands x x
Poland x
Portugal x
Slovenia x
Spain x x x
Sweden x
United Kingdom x
(1) Luxembourg has not provided NEC Directive projections.

Background information

The NEC Directive sets pollutant-specific and legally-binding emission ceilings for each Member State to meet by 2010. It requires the countries to report annually information concerning emissions and projections for the four air pollutants: SO2, NOx, NMVOC and NH3. These pollutants are deposited in soils and waters and damage ecosystems by acidification and eutrophication. They also contribute to the formation of ozone and particulate matter, which are harmful to human health as well as to ecosystems and vegetation.

The current EEA report is based on the 2007 reporting cycle, where Member States provided final emissions data for 2005 and preliminary data for 2006, as well as projected emissions for 2010. By the end of this year, they are required to submit updated 2010 estimates, together with final 2006 and preliminary 2007 data. Data in this report is also available through the NECD emissions dataviewer.

Annex I of the NEC Directive defines both country-based ceilings and aggregated emission ceilings for the EU-27 (which are the sums of the individual Member State ceilings in that Annex). Annex II also defines SO2, NOx and NMVOC ceilings for the EU-27 as a whole. These ceilings are stricter than those in Annex I and are designed with the aim of attaining by 2010 the interim environmental objectives set out in the directive (i.e. reduction of acidification, health- and vegetation-related ground-level ozone exposure by 2010 compared with the 1990 situation).


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