EU air pollution emissions still exceeded

Ten EU countries breached at least one of their air pollutant emission ceilings in 2013, preliminary data from the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows.

The EU’s National Emission Ceilings (NEC) directive sets legally binding national limits for maximum allowed emissions for four air pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide (SO₂), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH₃) and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), that were to be achieved by 2010 and not to be exceeded in the years to follow.

Preliminary data for 2013 shows that ten countries breached at least one emission ceiling, compared to twelve countries in 2012. The most commonly breached ceilings were those for NOx and NH₃, with six member states exceeding their limits. Germany and France reported the highest absolute exceedances of NOx limits, with 218 kilotonnes and 180 kt, respectively. In percentage terms, Luxembourg (41%) and Austria (32%) exceeded their NOx emission ceilings by the greatest amounts in 2013. Road transport contributes around 40 per cent of total NOx emissions in the EU and is one of the main factors behind the large number of NOx exceedances. Reductions from this sector – and especially from diesel-driven cars –have not been as large as originally anticipated, partly because road transport has grown more than expected, and partly owing to the increased number of diesel vehicles, which emit much more NOx than petrol vehicles.

Agriculture, especially the use of fertilisers and the handling of animal manure, is responsible for almost 95 per cent of NH₃ emissions. Compared with other pollutants covered by the NECD, agriculture emissions have not decreased to the same extent. In 2013, Germany had the highest NH₃ breach of 121 kt, exceeding its limit by 22 per cent.

Emission ceilings for NMVOCs were breached by three countries (Denmark, Germany and Ireland). For the third year in a row, all member states met their SO₂ limits. Several countries have persistent problems meeting their national emission limits – for example, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and Luxembourg have now breached their NOx ceilings for four consecutive years, and Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands and Spain have all breached their NH₃ ceilings for four years running (2010–13).

Germany was the only country that exceeded three of the four emission ceilings, while Austria, Denmark and Ireland exceeded two ceilings in 2013.

Despite multiple breaches of the NEC directive ceilings, emissions of all four pollutants have decreased in the EU overall between 2010 and 2013.

In December 2013 the European Commission presented a new Clean Air Policy Package, including a proposal to revise the NEC directive, with new 2020 and 2030 national 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). This proposal is currently debated in the European Parliament and the Council.

Christer Ågren

Source: EEA, 11 June 2015 The report: “NEC Directive status report 2014”, EEA Technical report No. 7/2015 

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