Romania is one of the member states that needs to reduce emissions the most to reach its PM2.5 target by 2030. Photo: © Pazargic Liviu /

Member states are struggling to meet NEC directive

In 2020, less than half of member states met all their national emission reduction commitments. Only two of them are already in line with their 2030 commitments. 

One part of the EU regulation to provide clean air is the National Emission reduction Commitments (NEC) directive. EU member states are required to meet national commitments to reduce emissions for five air pollutants. In 2020, the Directive underwent a transition to a new and more ambitious set of national emission reduction commitments.

In 2020, less than half of member states met all their national emission reduction commitments. Two member states, Lithuania and Romania, need to reduce their NOx emissions to meet their 2020–2029 national emission reduction commitments. The road transport sector is largely responsible for emissions of NOx, and due to the fall in road traffic during the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 a significant decline was seen in many member states. The EEA says this is likely to be just a short-term effect, with NOx emissions expected to have rebounded once lockdowns ended and traffic levels increased.

Regarding NOx emissions in 2020, seven member states met their emission reduction commitments for 2030, while the remaining 20 member states will need to reduce emissions further and many will need to reduce them significantly. Two member states, Romania and Hungary, need to reduce their PM2.5 emissions to meet their 2020–2029 national emission reduction commitments. The main source of PM2.5 emissions is energy consumption in the residential, commercial and institutional sectors, followed by emissions from the manufacturing and extractive industries and from road transport.

Regarding PM2.5 emissions, seven member states met their 2030 emission reduction commitments in 2020. Two countries, namely Hungary and Romania, will need to reduce their emissions by more than 50% from 2020 levels, while seven countries will need to reduce emissions by between 30% and 50%, and eleven member states by up to 30%.

More pollutants can be found in the table The NEC directive is one of the legislative instruments that supports delivery of the zero-pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment announced in the European Green Deal and is particularly critical to delivering on the 2030 targets related to air pollution under the zero-pollution action plan.

Those targets aim to reduce the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution by 55% and the EU ecosystems where air pollution threatens biodiversity by 25%, in both cases compared to 2005 levels. To achieve these targets, EU member states that have not met their respective emission reduction commitments set for 2020–2029 and for 2030 onwards, need to speed up their efforts. Member states are obliged to draw up and implement national air pollution control programmes (NAPCPs), with measures to reduce emissions from relevant sectors to meet national emission reduction commitments.

Ensuring consistency between member states’ national energy and climate plans (NECP) and their NAPCPs can help to increase the reductions in emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases across the energy, industrial, transport and agricultural sectors. The EEA also published the annual EU emission inventory report 1990–2020 issued by the EU under the UNECE Air Convention.

It shows a continued, albeit recently slowing, downward trend in emissions from 1990 to 2020 of six key air pollutants: carbon monoxide, ammonia, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur oxides and particulate matter. Abatement and legislative measures were key to reducing emissions.

The Third Clean Air Outlook will be published by the end of 2022 and will include more of the Commission’s assessment of member states’ prospects of meeting 2030 emission reduction commitments for all main pollutants.

Ebba Malmqvist

The NEC report can be found at, while the emission inventory report is at


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