EU set to miss 2010 air pollutant limits

News Published 02 Oct 2009 Last modified 20 Feb 2017
4 min read
With 2010 now quickly approaching, updated emission estimates for that year show just 14 Member States expect to meet their respective 2010 air pollutant limits set under the EU National Emission Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive). A small group of Member States anticipates missing two or more of their legally-binding emission ceilings.

The NEC Directive sets pollutant-specific and legally-binding emission ceilings that each Member State must meet by 2010. The NEC Directive status report from the European Environment Agency presents information from the latest reporting round for both Member States and the EU as a whole for the four pollutants covered by the directive: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3). These pollutants harm both human health and the environment by contributing to formation of ozone and particulate matter and leading to acidification and eutrophication.

Only Spain anticipates missing three emission ceilings — those for NOx, NMVOC and NH3. Additional forecasts published separately by Spain in July, and which take into account the economic slowdown, confirm further that even if additional actions were implemented to reduce emissions of these pollutants, the ceilings would still be missed.

Three Member States (France, Germany and the Netherlands) each anticipate missing two of their four emission ceilings. Of the four ceilings, NOx remains by far the most difficult for many Member States to achieve — 12 Member States (see following table) now estimate they will miss the ceiling for this pollutant.

Similar to last year's situation, 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 Belgium, are projected to miss their limits by as much as up to 60 %. Several Member States plan to implement additional measures to reduce emissions which would reduce the number projected to exceed their ceilings.

Still, five Member States (Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland and Spain) would still under these circumstances miss their ceilings by significant amounts. The progress toward meeting ceilings for the other pollutants remains largely on track. 

Effects of the economic recession not yet known

The latest data available only covers past emissions up until 2007 and few Member States have yet fully incorporated the effects of the recession into their projections for 2010. However, based on informal information received from countries, it seems certain that for certain pollutants and sectors, emissions for 2008 will be lower than for previous years — as a result of the recession. Decreased economic activity might also improve the chances of those Member States close to the level of the ceilings, in meeting their 2010 ceilings.

Member States must ensure that future emissions stay within their national ceilings after economic recovery as the NEC Directive limits also apply beyond 2010.

Achieving the emission limits for the European Community

NOx emissions for the EU-27 as a whole are now projected to be 6 % above the aggregated Member State ceilings (known as the Annex I ceiling) and 16 % above the stricter ceiling for the European Community as a whole (the Annex II ceiling) set for 2010.

For the other three pollutants (SO2, NMVOCs, NH3) the situation is better, reflecting that most EU Member States are expected to reduce their emissions beyond the level of their ceilings. Only for SO2 and NH3 is the EU-27 expected to register substantial reductions, meeting both the aggregated ceilings.

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

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

Austria x
Belgium x
Czech Republic
France x x
Germany x x
Ireland x
Luxembourg x
Netherlands x x
Poland x x
Portugal x
Slovenia x
Spain x x x
Sweden x
United Kingdom x

Notes: France did not submit projections in the 2008 reporting round, data were therefore taken from the 2007 submission. In its 2010 NMVOC projection, Poland has included emissions from natural sources. Discounting these emissions, Poland anticipates meeting its 2010 ceiling.

Background information

The NEC Directive requires Member States to report annually information concerning emissions and projections for four air pollutants: SO2, NOx, NMVOC and NH3. These pollutants contribute to the formation of particulate matter and ground-level ozone, which are harmful to human health as well as to ecosystems and vegetation. The pollutants can also be deposited in soils and waters, causing damage to ecosystems by acidification and eutrophication. A proposal from the European Commission — not yet published — is expected to include stricter emission ceilings for 2020, and for the first time, national limits on the emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

The current EEA report is based on the 2008 annual reporting cycle, for which Member States provided final emissions data for the year 2006 and preliminary data for 2007, as well as projected emissions data for 2010. By the end of 2009, the Member States are again required to submit updated 2010 estimates, together with final 2007 and preliminary 2008 emissions data. The report now also provides emissions expressed on a per capita and per GDP basis.

The data in this report is also available through the EEA's NEC Directive dataviewer. New country-specific profiles presenting key information and parameters for each Member State are available here. 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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