Evaluation of progress under the EU National Emission Ceilings Directive


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

In 2001, the European Community adopted the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive). Its objective is to limit the emissions of four important air pollutants in order to achieve the directive's interim environmental objectives concerning acidification and eutrophication in sensitive ecosystems, and health- and vegetation.related exposure to ground-level ozone.

Over the past decade, the NEC Directive has formed a cornerstone of the European Union's (EU) air pollution policies, contributing to efforts to meet the long term objectives for air quality defined in the Sixth Environment Action Programme i.e. to achieve levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on, and pose risks to, human health and the environment.

In order to deliver the agreed interim environmental objectives set within the Directive, a set of legally binding emission ceilings were established . limits to be met by 2010 and in the years thereafter . for each Member State and the European Community (as it was then known) as a whole. These ceilings pertained to four important air pollutants that contribute to acidification, eutrophication and to the formation of ground-level ozone (see also Box ES.1):

  • sulphur dioxide (SO2)
  • nitrogen oxides (NOX)
  • non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC)
  • ammonia (NH3).

A separate analysis published earlier in 2012 by the European Environment Agency (EEA) documented the extent to which the national emission ceilings were met on the basis of official preliminary emissions data reported by Member States for 2010 (EEA, 2012a). This earlier analysis revealed that 12 EU Member States failed to keep emissions below their agreed ceilings. These were Austria, Executive summary

Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. Using the officially-reported data, the analysis described in this report shows the extent to which the NEC Directive's interim environmental and health objectives for the year 2010 have been achieved.

Scientific knowledge concerning air pollution and its impacts has developed significantly over the past decade since the NEC Directive was agreed. These developments mean that a more nuanced analysis is needed of whether the objectives of the directive have been met:

  • more complete and improved emission inventories for the base year (1990) are now available;
  • the scientific knowledge on environmental and health impacts has improved, including the development of ecosystem-specific critical loads and revised response functions for ozone;
  • the air pollution dispersion modelling approach used by the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP) (1) to calculate the impacts of air pollution has changed;
  • the level of detail of the air pollution modelling computations has improved, with results now available on a 50 x 50 km grid cell basis, as compared to the older 150 x 150 km grid used at the time of determining the NEC Directive ceilings and its interim objectives.

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