Shift in emission sources
Air pollutant emissions from international shipping continue to rise, while those from land-based sources in Europe keep on slowly shrinking.
Since 1980, total European emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) – the most significant acidifying pollutant and an important precursor to health-damaging secondary fine particles (PM2.5) – from land-based emission sources have fallen by more than 80 per cent, from around 53 million tonnes in 1980 to 9.1 million tonnes in 2009.
Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ammonia have also gone down, although to a lesser extent. VOCs have more than halved since 1980, while NOx and ammonia emissions have dropped by 35 and 39 per cent, respectively.
Since the late 1990s, emissions of primary fine particles (PM2.5) have been attracting increasing attention, mainly because of their negative impacts on health. However, these emissions are not as well documented as those of other air pollutants, and many countries lack emissions data for the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2009 it is estimated that emissions of PM2.5 from land-based sources have fallen by a quarter, from 2.9 to 2.2 million tonnes.
Emissions from international shipping in European waters show a steady increase. Since 1980, ship emissions of SO2 have gone up from 1.7 to 2.4 million tonnes (a 41 per cent increase), and those of NOx from 2.4 to 3.9 million tonnes (61 per cent).
The data in Table 1 is taken from figures reported by countries themselves to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, and was compiled by the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP). The Convention's EMEP keeps track of the ways in which emissions from one country affect the environment in others. The EMEP report also provides an overview of calculations for source-receptor relationships (including transboundary movements between countries), covering acidifying, eutrophying, photo-oxidant, and particle pollution.
For most European countries the biggest share of depositions of sulphur and nitrogen emanate from outside their own territory, and an increasing share of the depositions originate from international shipping.
Table 1: European emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides (as NO2), VOCs, ammonia, and PM2.5 (kilotonnes). Data for 2000 and 2009 is from the 2011 EMEP report, while data for 1980 and 1990 is from earlier EMEP reports. Russia in the table refers only to the western parts of the Russian Federation.
For 2009 it was estimated that ship emissions were responsible for ten per cent or more of the total depositions of both sulphur and oxidised nitrogen compounds in more than half of the EU's 27 member countries (see Table 2).
Table 2: European countries that have the highest proportion of air pollutant depositions of sulphur and oxidised nitrogen.
In some countries, such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal and the United Kingdom, ship emissions already make up approximately one fifth or more of total pollutant depositions.
EU sulphur emissions fall
A European Union air pollutant emission inventory report compiled by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and released in July shows that the EU27 has cut SO2 emissions by 80 per cent since 1990. Over the last two years the decline was particularly sharp – more than 34 per cent – from 2007 to 2009, most probably as a result of the entry into force of stricter emission standards for old large coal-fired power plants in 2008 combined with the effects of the economic recession.
The emissions of the three ozone precursors NOx, VOCs and CO also continued their downward trend (reductions of 8%, 6%, and 11%, respectively, from 2008 to 2009). Ground-level ozone is a harmful pollutant that can trigger respiratory problems, contribute to premature mortality and also damage plants, reducing agricultural crop yields.
Health-damaging primary fine particles (PM2.5 and PM10) have not improved much in the last five years, but emissions in 2009 were about five per cent lower compared to the previous year. Ammonia emissions only came down by one per cent between 2008 and 2009.
Report: European Union emission inventory report 1990–2009 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP). EEA Technical report No 9/2011.