10 countries still breach EU’s air pollution limits

Fail, fail again, fail better? Photo: © Creativa Images / Fotolia.com

Nitrogen oxides from transport and ammonia from agriculture are still being emitted above the legal limits of the NEC directive.

As of 2010, all EU member states are required to meet national emission limits for their total emissions of four important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs).

However, final emissions data for 2010–2013 and preliminary data for 2014 shows that a number of countries consistently breached their limits for NOx, NMVOCs and NH3 in all these years.

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), emissions from road transport were the main reason for exceedances of the NOx limits, while emissions from agriculture – mainly from the use of fertilisers and the handling of animal manure – were responsible for excessive NH3 emissions.

High concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can cause direct damage to health through inflammation of the airways, leading to respiratory conditions and cardiovascular disease. In addition, NOx contributes to elevated levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3) in the atmosphere, and both of these pollutants have adverse effects on human health. Ammonia also forms particulate matter in the atmosphere. Moreover, both nitrogen oxides and ammonia impact negatively on the natural environment as they contain nitrogen, which causes eutrophication (over-fertilisation) of terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

Germany was the only country that exceeded three out of the four emission ceilings in 2014, while Austria, Denmark, Ireland and Luxembourg exceeded two ceilings.

Several countries have persistently failed to meet their national emission limits – for example Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and Luxembourg have now breached their NOx ceilings for five consecutive years, and Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain have all breached their NH3 ceilings for five years running (2010–2014).

Nitrogen oxides
Six countries exceeded their NOx ceilings in 2014, with Austria and Luxembourg exceeding the most, by 26 and 29 per cent, respectively. The largest emitters of NOx in 2014 were Germany, the UK, and France. Between 2013 and 2014, total EU NOx emissions came down by 4.7 per cent.

Sulphur dioxide
All member states complied with the emission ceilings for SO2. The largest emitters of SO2 were Poland, Germany and the UK. Between 2013 and 2014, the total reduction for SO2 in the EU28 was 7.7 per cent.

Six countries exceeded their NH3 ceilings in 2014, and the highest exceedance was reported for Germany (35%). The largest emitters of NH3 were Germany, France and Spain. Between 2013 and 2014, total EU emissions of NH3 actually increased by 1.3 per cent.

Non-methane volatile organic compounds
In 2014, four member states (Denmark, Germany, Ireland and Luxembourg) did not attain their ceilings. Ireland had the highest exceedance, with emissions 58 per cent above its limit. The largest emitters of NMVOCs were Germany, Italy and the UK. The total EU emissions of NMVOCs came down by 3.1 per cent between 2013 and 2014.

EU aggregated ceilings
The EU itself has two different sets of emission ceilings for 2010 and onwards, as set out in the NEC directive. With respect to the aggregated emission ceilings of the directive’s Annex I, the combined reported emission data are lower than the respective ceilings for all four pollutants.

The stricter EU emission ceilings in Annex II of the directive were designed to ensure that specific environmental objectives were met, such as targets limiting the acidification and eutrophication of ecosystems. (However, Annex II does not include a ceiling for NH3 emissions.) The aggregated NOx emissions for EU28 were above the Annex II limit for the 2010 to 2012 period. Similarly the aggregated NMVOC emissions were above the Annex II ceiling for 2010. In 2014, the EU28 as a whole achieved all its Annex I and II emission ceilings.

In December 2013 the European Commission proposed a revised NEC directive, including new 2020 and 2030 emission reduction commitments for the four currently covered pollutants, as well as new ceilings for two additional pollutants – fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and methane (CH4). The proposal was negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council for almost half a year, and a compromise was finally reached in late June (see separate article on p. 16).

Christer Ågren

Source: EEA, 10 June 2016
The report “NEC Directive reporting status 2015”:

Note: In some cases, the ceiling could have been attained on the basis of adjusted emission inventories as approved under the 2012 Gothenburg Protocol of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP). In particular for 2013 and 2014, the number of exceedances above the emission ceilings would become fewer. Had adjusted emissions been applied under the NEC directive, the following member states would not have exceeded their ceilings: Belgium NOx 2010–2014 and NMVOCs 2010; Denmark NMVOCs 2011–2014 and NH3 2012–2014; France NOx 2014; Germany NOx 2014 and NMVOCs 2010–2014; Luxembourg NOx 2013–2014.

EU air pollutant emissions 1990–2014

Emissions in the EU of most air pollutants continue to gradually decline, according to a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) that documents trends in emissions between 1990 and 2014 and constitutes the EU’s annual report to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP).

The 1999 Gothenburg Protocol to the LRTAP Convention contains national emission ceilings for four pollutants – SO2, NOx, NMVOC and NH3 – that parties to the protocol must meet by 2010 and thereafter. In addition to ceilings for individual countries, the protocol also specifies ceilings for the EU, itself a party to the protocol.

The EEA report includes country-by-country data as well as information on which sectors are responsible for the emissions. It also provides emissions data for a number of other air pollutants that are covered by various protocols under the LRTAP Convention, such as particulate matter (PM), heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants.

According to the report, ammonia emissions came down by 24 per cent since 1990, but increased in the EU28 between 2013 and 2014 by 0.9 per cent. In 2014, ammonia emissions from the EU15 were 0.2 per cent higher than the 2010 limit set in the Protocol, the first time the EU15 has exceeded its emission ceiling for this pollutant. The rise in NH3 emissions in 2014 was mainly due to increases in France, Germany and Spain.

Emissions of the other main pollutants covered by LRTAP have dropped considerably since 1990, especially for SO2, which has fallen by 88 per cent. The three air pollutants primarily responsible for the formation of ground-level ozone (O3), i.e. carbon monoxide, NMVOCs and NOx, were reduced by 65, 60 and 55 per cent, respectively.

Emissions of primary particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 have fallen by 23 and 25 per cent, respectively since 2000, and black carbon (BC) by 42 per cent.

Source: EEA, 6 July 2016
The report “European Union emission inventory report 1990–2014 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)”, EEA Report No 16/2016.

Table: Comparison of reported member state emissions with respective NEC directive ceilings.

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