European Environment Agency (EEA)

Air quality in Europe — 2011 report


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

The present report provides an overview and analysis of air quality in Europe. The analysis covers up to 38 European countries (EEA-38) (1) and spans the two decades of data that countries have made officially available up to 2009. The evaluation of the status and trends of air quality is based on ambient air measurements and data on anthropogenic emissions and trends.

Emissions of the main air pollutants in Europe declined significantly in the period 1990–2009, in particular sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lead (Pb), resulting in improved air quality across the region. These results notwithstanding, many European countries do not expect to comply with one or more pollutant-specific (2) emission ceilings set under EU and United Nations (UN) agreements for 2010. Furthermore, due to complex links between emissions and ambient air quality, as well as a number of uncertainties associated with estimating emission data, emission reductions have not always produced a corresponding drop in atmospheric concentrations, especially for particulate matter (PM) and groundlevel ozone (O3).

At present, PM (3) and O3 are Europe's most problematic pollutants in terms of harm to health. Air pollution's most important effects on European ecosystems are eutrophication, acidification and vegetation damage resulting from exposure to O3. As sulphur emissions have fallen, ammonia (NH3) emitted from agricultural activity and nitrogen oxides (NOX) from combustion processes have become the predominant acidifying and eutrophying air pollutants. Several air pollutants are also climate forcers, having a potential impact on the planet's climate. Figure ES.1 shows the major air pollutants in Europe and their potential impact on human health, ecosystems and the climate.

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