Shipping emissions up - land-based slightly down

Air pollutant emissions from land-based sources in Europe are continuing to fall slightly, but considerably slower than in the 1990s. Some of the reductions on land are also countered by rising emissions from international shipping.

Since 1980, total European emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) – the most significant acidifying pollutant – from land-based emission sources have fallen by more than three-quarters, from around 53 million tonnes in 1980 to 11.7 million tonnes in 2007.

Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ammonia have also gone down, although to a lesser extent. VOCs have nearly halved since 1980, NOx emissions have dropped by 32 per cent, and ammonia by 31 per cent.

Since the late 1990s, emissions of fine particles (PM2.5) have been gaining increasing attention, primarily because of their negative impacts on health. However, these emissions are not as well documented as those of other air pollutants, and many countries lack emission data for the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2007 it is estimated that emissions of PM2.5 from land-based sources have fallen by about 20 per cent, from 3.0 to 2.4 million tonnes.

Although overall emissions continue to fall, the downward trend has flattened out over the last few years. In the case of NOx, small reductions in most countries were negated by an increase in Russian emissions of more than one million tonnes between 2000 and 2007.

Emissions from international shipping in European waters show a steady increase. Since 1990, ship emissions of SO2 have gone up from 1.8 to 2.6 million tonnes, and those of NOx from 2.4 to 3.9 million tonnes – increases of 45–60 per cent.

Table 1. European emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides (as NO2), VOCs and ammonia (thousand tonnes).
1) Figures for 1980, 1990 and 2000 including Montenegro emissions.

The data in the table is taken from figures reported by the countries themselves to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, and was compiled by EMEP.1

The Convention’s EMEP programme keeps track of the ways in which emissions from one country affect the environment in others. The EMEP report also provides an overview of calculations for source-receptor relationships, covering acidifying, eutrophying, photo-oxidant, and particle pollution.

The source-receptor relationships calculated by EMEP show the transboundary movements of air pollutants across Europe. They also quantify the “export” and “import” between countries of these pollutants.
It is true for most European countries that the biggest share of depositions of sulphur and oxides of nitrogen emanate from outside their own territory. Another similarity is that an increasing share of the depositions originates from international shipping.

Table 2. Examples of European countries where the proportion of air pollutant depositions of sulphur and oxidised nitrogen coming from ships is most marked. Source: EMEP (2009)

For 2007 it was estimated that ship emissions were responsible for ten per cent or more of the total deposition of both sulphur and oxidised nitrogen compounds in at least fourteen European countries (see table 2).
In some countries, such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, ship emissions already make up approximately one fifth or more of total pollutant depositions.

Christer Ågren

1) Transboundary acidification, eutrophication and ground level ozone in Europe in 2007. EMEP Status Report 1/2009. Available at the EMEP website: In Table 1, data for 2000 and 2007 are from this new report, while data for 1980 and 1990 are from earlier EMEP reports.

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