Persistent problems in meeting NOx limits

NIne countries breached their NOx ceiling and two their NH3 ceiling. Photo: © Yanik Chauvin -

Eleven EU countries breached at least one of their air pollutant emission ceilings in 2012, preliminary data from the European Environment Agency shows.

The 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.

An early analysis of the officially reported emissions data for 2012 shows that eleven countries breached at least one NEC, compared to ten countries in 2011 and eleven in 2010. The most commonly breached ceiling was that for NOx, with nine member states exceeding their limits. 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.

Denmark and Finland exceeded their ceilings for NH3, while only Luxembourg breached the ceiling for NMVOCs. 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, Luxembourg and Spain breached their NOx ceilings in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Denmark and Finland have exceeded their NH3 ceilings for all three years. Despite multiple breaches of these ceilings, emissions of all four pollutants have decreased in the EU overall between 2011 and 2012.

A detailed assessment of the data delivered by the member states will be published by the EEA in June.

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).

Christer Ågren

Source: EEA, 24 March 2014

Figure: Chart above/below ceiling — Progress by EU Member States in meeting their national emission ceilings for nitrogen oxides (NOx) set in the EU NEC Directive.

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