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The issue

Emissions of air pollutants derive from almost all economic and societal activities: electricity generation, industrial production, transport, residential heating, product use, agriculture and waste treatment. In Europe, policies and actions at all levels have significantly reduced anthropogenic emissions and exposure to important air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and lead. However, complex links between emissions and ambient air quality mean that for some pollutants lower emissions have not produced a corresponding drop in the concentrations found in the environment. The result is clear risks to human health and the environment. An estimated 5 million years of lost life per year are due to fine particles (PM2.5) alone in the EEA-32 countries. Similarly, as emissions of acidifying pollutants have declined, the situation of Europe's rivers and lakes is (slowly but steadily) improving, although atmospheric nitrogen oversupply still threatens biodiversity in sensitive terrestrial and water ecosystems.

Review process

In 2013 the EU will review the Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, and in particular the provisions related to PM2.5. The European Commission has signalled that the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution will be reviewed in the same year. The Gothenburg protocol to the UNECE Convention on Long‑range Transboundary Air Pollution is presently under review with a revised protocol expected to be agreed at the end of 2011. The EU National Emission Ceilings Directive has been under review but to date a proposal for a revised Directive has not been finalised. The review of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive (IPPC) and other directives related to industrial emissions has led to a European Commission proposal for a directive on industrial emissions (IED), presently undergoing its second reading.

Links to SOER 2010 and other EEA products

Global megatrends


Thematic assessments

Other EEA products

  • Population
  • Understanding climate change
  • Ch. 2: Climate change
  • Mitigating climate change
  • Ch. 3: Nature and biodiversity
  • Adapting to climate change
  • Accelerating technologies
  • Ch. 4: Natural resources and waste
  • Biodiversity


  • Continued growth
  •  Land use


  • Global power shifts
  • Soil


  • Global competition
  • Marine and coastal environment


  • Decreasing natural resources
  • Consumption and environment


  • Climate change consequences


  • Material resources and waste



  • Water resources: quantity and flows


  • Global regulation and governance


  • Freshwater quality








Note: Above cells with hyperlinks lead to specific SOER 2010 information and other EEA products that are relevant to the policy area on this page.


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