European Environment Agency (EEA)

Air pollutant emissions to exceed limits


Source: European Environment Agency (EEA)

In 2010, around half of the European Union's Member States expect to surpass one or more of the legal limits set by the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive). The annual status report released today by the European Environment Agency (EEA) confirms that 11 countries anticipate an exceedance of their ceilings for NOx — some by more than 40 %.

Of the four pollutants covered by the NEC Directive status report 2009, EU Member States have the greatest difficulty meeting the emission limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx). Only 16 expect to remain within their respective NOx ceilings, with road transport bearing much of the blame. The road transport sector contributed around 40 % of total EU-27 NOx emissions in 2008 and although its overall emissions have decreased since 1990, the reduction has not always been as large as originally anticipated. This is partly because the sector has grown more than expected and partly because vehicle emission standards, especially those for diesel vehicles, have not always delivered the foreseen level of NOx reductions.

Several Member States, including Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, expect to exceed their respective NOx ceilings by small margins (less than 5 %). In contrast, France and Spain expect to exceed their ceilings by 261 kilotonnes and 236 kilotonnes respectively — equivalent to surpluses of 32 % and 28 %. Other countries, expecting lower surpluses in absolute terms, would exceed their limits by even larger margins, notably Austria (42 %), Belgium (43 %) and Ireland (47 %).

What does the NEC Directive cover?

The EU NEC Directive sets pollutant-specific and legally binding emission ceilings (limits) for four main air pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3). These pollutants harm both human health and the environment by contributing to the formation of ozone and particulate matter and leading to acidification and eutrophication. Member States must meet the NEC Directive’s ceilings by 2010 in order to deliver the originally agreed health and environmental benefits.

What next?

The Thematic Strategy on Air (TSAP) adopted by the Commission in 2005 lists a revision of the NEC Directive as an important action to achieve the health and environmental targets of the TSAP by 2020. This revision is expected to propose stricter emission ceilings for 2020 in order to protect health and the environment further. It could also, for the first time, introduce a ceiling for fine particulate matter (PM2.5). In the absence of new legislation, however, the NEC Directive remains in force and requires that future emissions stay below national ceilings after 2010.

Separately, discussions over setting new 2020 national emission ceilings for European countries have started within the UNECE’s Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.

NEC data viewer

The EEA publishes the data from the NEC Directive status report 2009 in an air pollutant emissions data viewer, a searchable web-based interface that simplifies access and analysis. The data viewer allows users to compare emissions from different countries and their proximity to the emission ceilings

Country fact sheets on air pollutant emissions

These fact sheets summarise key data on air pollutant emissions separately for each of the EEA member countries. Indicators on past and future emission trends are presented, together with a summary of progress being made towards meeting national emissions ceilings for each country.

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