A full implementation of the NEC directive requirements would reduce premature deaths bt 200,000 annually by 2030. Photo: Flickr.com / Eduardo A. Ponce CC BY-NC-ND

EU “Clean Air Outlook” up to 2030

The annual benefits of additional measures needed to achieve the 2030 national emissions ceilings are estimated at €13–58 billion, up to 84 times higher than the estimated costs.

Requirements to reduce air pollutant emissions established in the new National Emission Ceilings (NEC) directive could be achieved cost-effectively, at lower costs and with higher health benefits than initially thought, according to a new analysis by the European Commission.
Published on 7 June 2018, the first EU Clean Air Outlook report looks at the prospects for EU air quality up to 2030. It follows from the 2013 Clean Air Programme proposal for a regular update of the air quality situation in the EU and builds on several studies prepared by the Commission’s consultant, IIASA.

Commenting on the Clean Air Outlook report, EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella said: “While ensuring clean air for our citizens requires urgent action from member states now, action to reduce air pollution will also pay off in the long run. This report shows that, at the EU level, we have the right policies working in the right direction, and that multiple benefits are possible. Now we have to make sure that these policies are fully implemented. For only one euro per citizen per year, thousands of premature deaths due to poor air quality could be prevented by 2030.”

The new NEC directive requires each member country to cut emissions of five major air pollutants in two steps, by 2020 and by 2030. The pollutants covered are sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (VOC), ammonia (NH3) and particulate matter (PM2.5). For the EU as a whole for 2030 these reductions add up to 79% for SO2, 63% for NOx, 49% for PM2.5, 40% for VOC and 19% for NH3, as compared to the emission levels in the base year, 2005. Country-by-country figures are shown in Table 1.

In the new reports, IIASA analyses the joint effect of new EU measures put in place since 2014 to reduce air pollutant emissions from different sources (e.g. medium combustion plants, non-road mobile machinery and domestic solid-fuel combustion) and changes resulting from the updated EU energy and climate policy. They also account for improvements made over the last few years in the national emission inventories.

Based on the above-mentioned information, two new baseline emission scenarios were produced, one that does not account for the EU’s climate and energy policy (REF) and one that includes this policy (CEP). The resulting emissions in 2030 under these baseline scenarios show whether countries are on track to meet the 2030 emission reduction requirements (ERR) of the NEC directive or not. In cases where the resulting national emission ceilings are not expected to be met, IIASA subsequently identified the least-cost measures needed in each country to meet their ceilings, producing so-called optimised scenarios. Table 2 shows percentage changes in total EU-28 emissions for the various scenarios (country-by-country figures can be found in the report).

It was shown that for both scenarios only a handful of countries will have to take additional measures to meet their emission ceilings for SO2 and NOx. On the other hand, for VOCs, PM2.5 and especially for NH3, the analysis showed that additional measures would be needed for many countries to meet their emission ceilings for these pollutants.

However, there were also cases where full implementation of currently existing legislation will lead to “overachievement” of the emission ceilings, i.e. the baseline scenarios alone reduce national emissions beyond the minimum requirements of the NEC directive, thus providing additional health and environmental improvements. The reason for this is primarily that some measures introduced to control one specific pollutant also deliver emission reductions in other pollutants. One example of this is the ban on agricultural waste burning, which simultaneously reduces emissions of PM2.5, VOCs and NH3.

After full implementation of the emission reduction requirements of the NEC directive, the share of EU population exposed to PM2.5 concentrations above the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline is expected to drop significantly, from 88 per cent in 2005 to around 13 per cent in 2030. Cases of premature deaths due to excessive levels of PM2.5 and ozone would come down by 54 per cent, from 418,000 in 2005 to 194,000 in 2030.

But less improvement is expected for ecosystems, especially for impacts on biodiversity resulting from an oversupply of airborne nitrogen compounds. In 2005 around 78 per cent (430,000 km2) of the EU’s protected ecosystem area was exposed to excess nitrogen deposition. By 2030, this figure is expected to come down only by approximately one quarter, to 320,000 km2 which equals 58 per cent of the Natura2000 nature protection areas. The main reason for this is the directive’s significantly lower ambition level for reducing ammonia emissions from agriculture.

When the Commission presented its proposal for a revised NEC directive in 2013, the estimated annual cost in 2030 for achieving the emission ceilings was €2.2 billion. As the negotiations with the Council and Parliament resulted in an overall lowering of the ambition level, especially regarding reductions of ammonia, this estimate came down to €1.8 billion.

When taking into account the additional source legislation adopted since 2014, the remaining cost specifically attributable to additional measures needed to achieve the 2030 emission ceilings comes down to €960 million in the optimised reference scenario. As an average for the whole EU, this equals an annual cost of €1.9 per person in 2030. And by lowering the burning of fossil fuels, implementation of the EU’s climate and energy policy would further reduce the cost of the NEC directive to €540 million (€1.05 per person and year), corresponding to 0.004 per cent of the GDP.

The analysis shows that costs in 2030 for implementing already adopted air pollution legislation and measures are unevenly distributed across different economic sectors, with more than half of the total costs carried by road transport. The power sector, industry and non-road mobile machinery each carry about 13 per cent of total costs, the domestic sector about 5 per cent, and agriculture about 3 per cent.

Not surprisingly, when looking at additional action needed to achieve the 2030 emission ceilings, a series of measures in agriculture were identified as very cost-effective, including measures linked to the application of mineral fertilisers and manure management.

Total annual health costs of air pollution in 2005 have been estimated to amount to between €385 and 1099 billion in the EU. By 2030, full implementation of current legislation (the baseline scenarios) is expected to reduce these costs by more than 50 per cent.

The incremental annual benefits resulting from additional measures taken to meet the 2030 emission ceilings are valued at €13–58 billion (see Table 3). While including estimated benefits to crops, forests, ecosystems and materials, benefits to health make up more than 95 per cent of
the total monetised benefits.

Table 3. Comparison of costs and benefits for the EU of achieving the 2030 emission ceilings (million euro).

  Optimised REF scenario Optimised CEP scenario
Median VOLY    
Benefits 16,258 12,682
Costs 960 539
Net benefits 15,298 12,143
Benefit-to-cost ratio 16.9 23.5
Mean VSL    
Benefits 58,355 45,397
Costs 960 539
Net benefits 57,395 44,858
Benfit-to-cost ratio 60.8 84.2

Note: Specifically for mortality impacts, a lower and a higher value were used, the former being based on the value of a life year lost (VOLY) and the latter on the value of a statistical life (VSL).

A comparison between the benefits and the costs shows that even if a low health valuation is used the benefits still exceed costs by a factor of at least 17. If a higher health valuation is used instead, benefits are up to 84 times higher than the costs.

It should be noted that for various reasons some of the health benefits from less air pollution exposure were not included in this valuation. This applies, for example, to reduced damage to health from nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure and impacts identified on dementia, obesity and diabetes.

Moreover, the cost-benefit analysis has been limited geographically to the EU’s 28 member countries, which means that no allowance has been made for the positive effects of reducing emissions in the EU on health and the environment in non-EU countries.

Methane, black carbon and ozone are of concern both for air quality and climate change, and the Commission noted in particular that methane is a major contributor to background ozone concentrations. Later this year the Commission’s Joint Research Centre will present a report on methane emissions and their contribution to ozone. The Commission said that it “will further assess the impact of methane emissions on achieving air policy objectives, consider measures for reducing those emissions and, where appropriate, submit a legislative proposal, based on the evidence at EU and global level.”

According to the Commission, it is now stepping up cooperation with member states to help them comply with EU clean air policy and legislation. Financial support for air pollution control measures is being provided, and clean air dialogues with member states are ongoing to share solutions towards better implementation of the air legislation. But more efforts are still needed from member states.

The Commission stresses that “there is an urgent short-term need to take decisive action to achieve the objectives of the Ambient Air Quality directives, at all governance levels,” and that in the longer term, complementary action at all these levels will be required to ensure that the EU’s long-term objectives are met.

This first Clean Air Outlook will provide the context for member states’ work in developing their National Air Pollution Control Programmes (NAPCPs) due by 1 April 2019 under the new NEC directive. The next Clean Air Outlook is foreseen for 2020 and will include the Commission’s analysis of the 2019 NAPCPs.

Christer Ågren

- The First Clean Air Outlook. Report from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. COM(2018) 446 final (7 June 2018).
- Progress towards the achievement of the EU’s air quality and emissions objectives. IIASA (December 2017).
- Costs, benefits and economic impacts of the EU clean air strategy and their implications on innovation and competitiveness. IIASA (December 2017).
All three reports are available at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/clean_air/outlook.htm




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