European Environmental Bureau

In the queue for clean air

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The National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NECD), adopted in 2001, defines the maximum emissions on a national level for four major air pollutants that have a high impact on human health and the environment. These are: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia. The Directive will undergo revision in 2008, which would set new interim air quality targets and related new national emissions ceilings to be achieved by Member States by 2020.

This report assesses the probability of achieving the 2010 interim air quality targets of the NECD. Based on the outcomes initial recommendations are made for the revision of the Directive. The original Commission proposal on national emission ceilings was published in 1999. It was based on thorough analyses conducted to determine the most cost-effective way to achieve specific interim air quality targets, mainly aiming to reduce ground level ozone, acidification and eutrophication. The original proposal had been fully supported by the European Parliament but was not accepted by the Member States, which resulted in adopting very weak emissions ceilings in the end.

The European Commission has performed several evaluations of the progress on implementing the directive by assessing the quality and provisions in the national programmes submitted by the Member States in 2002 and 2006. Data reported by the 25 Member States show that most have a realistic chance to meet the overall emission ceilings by 2010 with the pronounced exception of nitrogen oxides where the combined EU target may be exceeded by about 8%. Nitrogen oxides contribute to eutrophication and acidification of ecosystems throughout Europe and are also precursors for ozone and ultra fine particles formation, which are detrimental to human health. Failing the nitrogen oxides emission ceiling in 2010 by 8% is particularly worrying considering the results of future emission scenarios with application of current EU legislation. These show widespread exceedance of critical loads of eutrophication and acidification as well as serious health damage due to fine particles and ozone exposure in 2020.

It is difficult to determine how great the obstacles to meeting the national emission ceilings actually are, since most national programmes fail to provide quantitative estimates of the effects of the measures proposed or undertaken. We consider that full and accurate analysis and reporting by the countries to be highly important, not only for implementation of the Directive’s 2010 ceilings, but also for its review and revision. Special focus should be given to developing and assessing the contributions of additional measures both at the national and EU level. Such measures should not only be planned, but also implemented in a timely way. The adoption of the new measures would also justify setting new and more ambitious national emission ceilings for NOX in the review of the Directive, which are necessary to achieve the objectives of the 6th Environmental Action Programme regarding air quality.

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