Eight countries continue to exceed their emission ceilings

Car fleet dieselisation combined with high real-life driving emissions contribute to seven countries still failing to meet NOx reduction targets.

Seven member states – Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain – continued to fail to meet their national emission ceilings for nitrogen oxides (NOx) in 2011, according to provisional emission data published by the European Environment Agency (EEA). This is an improvement from last year’s figure of eleven countries exceeding their legally binding NOx caps (see Table).

The National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) directive covers four main air pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3). These pollutants can damage human health, cause acidification and eutrophication of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, damage vegetation and harm biodiversity. The emission ceilings set in the 2001 NEC directive had to be met from 2010.

According to the provisional EEA data for 2011, Denmark met its cap on ammonia, leaving Finland Germany and Spain to continue being in non-compliance. Germany remained the only member state failing to meet its cap on emissions of volatile organic compounds, although it was only exceeded by a small margin. All countries achieved their sulphur dioxide limits.

Road transport contributes approximately 40 per cent of the NOx emissions in the EU and is one of the main causes behind the large number of NOx exceedances. Emission reductions from this sector have not been as large as originally anticipated, partly because traffic and the proportion of diesel cars have grown more than expected, and partly due to inadequate emission control measures. Moreover, EU emission standards for diesel vehicles have not delivered the anticipated level of NOx reductions.

The ongoing review of EU air pollution policy (see front page) is expected to result in a revised NEC directive that sets stricter emission ceilings for 2020, 2025 or 2030 in order to further improve protection of health and the environment. National ceilings for emissions of particulate matter (PM2.5) are also expected to be introduced. Until such new legislation is in place, however, the current NEC directive remains in force and requires countries to keep their emissions below the current national ceilings in years to come.

Christer Ågren

Source: NEC Directive status report 2012 (May 2013). EEA Technical Report No 6/2013. 

Table: EU countries’ emissions compared to the national emission ceilings of the NEC directive – final data for 2010 and provisional data for 2011.

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