Impact of selected policy measures on Europe`s air quality

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

This report was prepared by the European Topic Centre for Air and Climate Change (ETC/ACC) of the European Environment Agency (EEA). The authors of the report were Jeroen Kuenen, Mtinkheni Gondwe, Tinus Pulles (TNO, the Netherlands), Frank de Leeuw (PBL, the Netherlands) and Justin Goodwin (S-ESC, United Kingdom). The EEA project manager was Martin Adams.

Dr. Leonidas Ntziachristos (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece) is thanked for providing annual vehicle fleet data for Europe (sourced from the FLEETS Research Project funded by the European Commission (DG Environment) and available through the COPERT 4 website and TREMOVE road transport models). These data were used in the analysis of the road transport sector. Emission factors used in the analysis of the industrial sector were obtained from the GAINS‑Europe online model (of the Atmospheric Pollution and Economic Development Program, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria).

The EEA thanks those national representatives of the European environmental information and observation network (Eionet) and staff of the European Commission Directorate General Environment who provided comments on the draft version of this report. Anke Lükewille and Valentin Foltescu (EEA) are also thanked for their helpful comments during the preparation of this report.

Executive summary

In recent decades Europe has introduced and implemented a number of legislative instruments to improve air quality by controlling emissions of air pollutants that harm human health and the environment. In addition to legislation limiting emissions at the national level (1), these initiatives have also included specific legislation addressing emissions from road transport and industrial sectors. Nevertheless, present air quality levels in Europe still cause a variety of adverse impacts.

Industrial combustion (comprising emissions from power plants, refineries and from the manufacturing sector) remains an important source of air pollution, being a main contributor to emissions of particulate matter and acidifying pollutants. Road transport is a significant contributor to emissions of tropospheric ozone precursors. Together, these sources are responsible for around half to two-thirds of total emissions of these pollutants.

The main objective of the present study is to analyse and quantify the effects that certain past policy measures in the road transport and industrial combustion facilities have had on the magnitude of air pollutant emissions and subsequent air quality in Europe. The policies selected are the Euro emission standards for road vehicles and the EU directives on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) and large combustion plants (LCP).

Two specific questions are addressed:

  • how has the introduction of the selected legislative instruments affected air pollution in Europe during the past decades?
  • what is the theoretical unexploited potential in Europe to reduce air pollution if all vehicles in Europe were to conform to the latest Euro standards and all industrial combustion facilities limited emissions to levels consistent with the LCP Best Available Techniques Reference Document?

Achievements of EU air emission policies

Despite greater fuel use between 1990 and 2005 (+ 26 %), significant reductions in emissions have been achieved due to the introduction of the Euro standards in the road transport sector (starting in the early 1990s). This is especially so for carbon monoxide (CO) and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), whose emissions decreased significantly and steadily over the whole study period. By 2005, emissions of CO stood 80 % below those projected in a no-policy scenario — the theoretical situation that would have existed had Euro standards not been introduced. NMVOC emissions were 68 % lower.

Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX) were 40 % below the no-policy scenario in 2005. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) were 60 % lower, with the decrease commencing in the mid-1990s.

Due to lower emissions, concentrations of particulate matter over Europe have also fallen far below the levels that would have been observed had no policies been in place, mainly in densely populated areas in western European countries. Significant reductions in
eastern Europe are not observed to the same extent.

Changes in tropospheric ozone concentrations are more complicated to ascertain. A decrease in high daily (2) ozone concentrations has occurred over most parts of Europe, especially in the Mediterranean area. Contrastingly, over Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom an increase in tropospheric ozone has occurred as a result of lower chemical quenching rates of ozone due to lower NOX emissions. Nevertheless, the introduction of the Euro standards has improved the overall health impacts of ozone for all countries. The effect on ecosystems (both crops and forests) is also positive.

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