Air pollutant emissions to exceed limits

Only one in two member states expect to comply with their emission limits for all four air pollutants set by the EU national emission ceilings directive.

Thirteen countries – Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK – are projected to miss their respective ceilings for at least one of the four pollutants if additional actions to reduce emissions are not taken.

Three countries – namely Austria, Germany and Malta – anticipate missing two of their emission ceilings, while Spain is forecast to miss as many as three.

The national emission ceilings (NEC) directive sets legally binding emission ceilings that each member state must meet by 2010. A new report published by the European Environment Agency on 24 September presents information from the latest reporting round (deadline 31 December 2009) for the four pollutants covered by the directive: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia (NH3).

The latest data available covers past emissions up until 2008, and not all member states have yet fully incorporated the effects of the recession into their projections for 2010. For these countries, decreased economic activity may improve the chances of meeting their obligations.

However, member states must ensure that future emissions stay within their national ceilings after economic recovery, as the NEC directive limits also apply beyond 2010.

As Figure 1 shows, in most cases it is the emission ceiling for NOx that poses the greatest problem, with eleven countries predicting they will miss their ceilings, unless they take additional measures.

Figure 1: Anticipated member state compliance with emission ceilings. Red with a large X indicates exceedance by more than 10 per cent, yellow with a small x indicates exceedance by less than 10 per cent, and green indicates compliance.

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

The road transport sector contributed around 40 per cent of total EU 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.

The projected NOx emissions for the EU27 are four per cent above the aggregated national ceilings for 2010, and 14 per cent above the Annex II ceiling.

Figure 2: Aggregated "with measures" projected emissions for 2010 as reported by member states, compared with the ceilings defined in Annex I and Annex II of the directive, measured in kilotonnes.

Three member states – Austria, Portugal and Spain – report that they do not envisage meeting their VOC ceilings in 2010. Projections for the EU27 as a whole are 15 per cent below the aggregated ceiling target, and marginally below the Annex II ceiling.

Regarding SO2, only Malta does not expect to meet its ceilings in 2010. The EU as a whole is projected to be 30 per cent below the aggregate ceiling, and 25 per cent below the Annex II ceiling.

22 member states have already reduced ammonia emissions below their respective ceilings. Germany, Netherlands and Spain report that they will not reach the target for 2010 with the current measures in place. The projections for the EU27 as a whole are eight per cent below the aggregated EU ceiling targets for 2010.

Christer Ågren

The report: NEC Directive status report 2009. EEA Technical Report No. 10/2010.

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