New analysis of national emissions ceilings

Additional measures to achieve the interim targets of the thematic strategy on air pollution would cost less than €3 per person in 2020, or less than one eurocent per day.

The National Emission Ceilings (NEC) directive is one of the pillars of the EU's air pollution control legislation and plays a vital role in achieving the goals of the sixth environmental action programme (EAP). The long awaited revision of this directive would determine the essential new interim air quality targets for 2020, and set national caps on five pollutants: tighter limits on emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and ammonia, plus the first ever national caps on emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), to be achieved by member states by 2020.

When presenting its thematic strategy on air pollution in 2005, the European Commission failed to come up with proposals for specific action to reduce air pollutant emissions. However, it did announce its intention to revise the NEC directive and to propose in 2006 new emission ceilings for 2020, which would be based on the level of ambition set out in the strategy.

Since that date, several proposals have been presented for new or revised EU legislation that would help to reduce emissions, but so far there have been no proposals regarding the new emission ceilings.

Environmental objectives

In its 2005 thematic strategy on air pollution, the Commission established interim health and environment objectives to be achieved by 2020 in order to guide the ambition level for further emission reductions. These targets, expressed in terms of relative improvements compared to the situation in the base year 2000 (see Figure), aim to reduce:

  • The number of life year lost due to PM2.5 by 47 per cent;
  • The number of premature deaths attributable to ground-level ozone by 10 per cent;
  • The total area of ecosystems exposed to excess nitrogen deposition (eutrophication) by 43 per cent;
  • The total area of forest ecosystems exposed to excess acid deposition by 74 per cent.

The strategy also includes targets to reduce the total area of freshwater ecosystems exposed to excess acid deposition by 39 per cent, and the total area of forest ecosystems subject to excess ozone exposure by 15 per cent. While the achievement of these last two targets was not part of the optimisation analysis considered below, they were subsequently considered and found to be met by the resulting optimised scenarios.

Baseline scenarios

It is within this policy context that the Commission's consultant, IIASA, has released the latest analysis of further cost-effective reductions of air pollutant impacts in the EU.

As a first step, the analysis projects baseline scenarios, which model air pollutant impacts absent any additional measures to reduce emissions and meet the strategy's targets.

Policies and strategies for greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions have a big impact on energy use and thus on air pollutant emissions. In earlier analyses for the new NEC directive, various energy scenarios have been analysed, illustrating the impacts of different assumptions regarding future use of fossil fuels within the EU (see Acid News 3/07 and 3/08).

For its latest analysis, IIASA used energy projections that correspond to the EU's 2008 Climate & Energy Package, as well as updated assumptions on economic growth. It also takes account of recent EU legislation on emissions from industrial and mobile sources, and of the new emission and fuel standards for international shipping that were adopted by the International Maritime Organization in October 2008.

Two energy projections developed for the Commission using the PRIMES model are investigated, one that fully incorporates the EU 2020 target for renewable energy use (P10) and another that does not (P9). The effects of the economic crises in 2008 and 2009 are taken into account in both projections. Resulting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the EU in 2020 are two and nine per cent below their 1990 level in scenarios P9 and P10 respectively.

The baseline projection for air pollutant emissions under the NEC directive should in principle include the effects of full implementation of all existing national and EU-wide legislation and measures. But the analysis by IIASA has so far ignored the further measures that will be needed by some member states to meet their current national emission ceilings for 2010. It also failed to consider measures that may be required to comply with current EU air quality limit values for particles (PM10 and PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Based on national forecasts, eleven member states will fail to achieve their emission ceilings for nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 2010, and some will also have problems achieving their ceilings for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia (NH3) (see Acid News 3/10, p. 22-23). Even by 2020 some member states are projected to not have attained their 2010 NECs for NOx and NH3, unless additional measures are taken.

In addition to the baseline scenarios that show the expected emission levels in 2020 that will result from implementing current legislation (CLE), IIASA has also calculated the maximum achievable emission reductions from applying end-of-pipe measures (MRR).

Optimised scenarios

Starting from the new baseline scenarios, IIASA applied the optimisation mode in its GAINS computer model to identify the least-cost set of emission reduction measures for the EU as a whole that achieved the environmental targets of the thematic strategy. The resulting optimised emission reductions for scenario P10 are shown in Table 1.

As compared to the baseline scenario, ammonia emissions in 2020 under the P10 optimised scenario would need to come down by an additional 696 kilotonnes (kt), SO2 by an additional 302kt, NOx by 258 kt, PM2.5 by 57 kt, and VOCs by 48 kt.

Health benefits

The scenario analysis also includes estimates of some health and environmental impacts expected to result from the projected levels of future emissions (see Table 2).

In the case of PM2.5, the GAINS model estimates years of life lost that can be attributed to changes in anthropogenic emissions. Using the pollution levels for the year 2000, it is estimated that increased concentrations of PM2.5 resulted in some 200 million life years lost in the EU that year. In the baseline scenario, this figure comes down to 116 million by 2020, and in the optimised scenarios to 106 million.

As a result of reduced emissions in the baseline scenario, the number of premature deaths from ground-level ozone is estimated to decrease by about ten per cent between 2000 and 2020, from 22,700 to 17,100. The optimised P10 scenario further reduces this figure to 16,900.

Environmental impacts

The analysis of environmental impact includes ozone damage to vegetation, as well as acidification and eutrophication of various types of sensitive ecosystems.

In the year 2000, some 23 per cent of the forest area in the EU, nearly 300,000 square kilometres, received acid depositions above the critical loads. By 2020 this is calculated to drop to seven per cent (90,000 km2) under the baseline scenario, and to five per cent (70,000 km2) under the optimised scenario.

Regarding eutrophication, in the year 2000, about 73 per cent of sensitive ecosystem areas in the EU, nearly 1.2 million square kilometres, received nitrogen deposition above the critical loads. By 2020 this is calculated to drop to 59 per cent (950,000 km2) under the baseline scenario, and to 50 per cent (820,000 km2) under the optimised scenario.

Figure: Per cent improvement (gap-closure) from 2000 to 2020. (100% = no exceedance of ecosystem critical loads due to air pollution, no life-years lost due to PM, no premature deaths due ozone)

Three euros per year

Those additional emission reduction measures that are required to meet the targets of the strategy and go beyond the existing baseline measures are estimated to cost about €1.5 billion per year in 2020, or 0.01 per cent of the EU's GDP in 2020. This equals an annual cost per person of approximately €3, or a daily cost per person of less than one eurocent.

According to the cost-effectiveness optimisation, some three quarters of the costs for additional measures should be spent by the agricultural sector to reduce ammonia emissions. This reflects the fact that this sector so far has done much less than other sectors to reduce emissions – under current policies agriculture is estimated to bear only four per cent of the total air pollution control cost in 2020.

Climate policies can have a significant impact on costs of air pollution control – they influence the costs of additional measures beyond current legislation to meet given air quality objectives, and also affect the cost of implementing current legislation. As compared to the P9 scenario, the P10 scenario assumes lower energy consumption and less fossil fuel use in 2020, with the result that the estimated annual costs of implementing current legislation on air pollution in 2020 would be nearly €1 billion higher under the P9 scenario.

As such, changing the energy scenario from P9 to P10 reduces overall air pollution control costs by nearly €1 billion per year, in addition to the climate benefits. This is in line with previous analysis by IIASA, which estimated an annual saving in total air pollution control costs in 2020 of about €8 billion when switching from an energy scenario without climate policy to one based on the Climate & Energy Package. Such cost savings would constitute a significant fraction of the costs of adjusting the energy system towards the needed CO2 reductions.

Benefits much greater than costs

An updated estimate of the monetised health benefits of implementing the thematic strategy objectives has yet to be published by the Commission. When this was last investigated about two years ago, these benefits were valued at between €22 and €70 billion per year. If this estimate still holds, and there is no reason why it should not, the benefits of action exceed the costs by up to 50 times.

Note that this comparison of costs and monetised benefits does not include all the benefits that would result from improved air quality – notably it excludes benefits to ecosystems and cultural heritage, as well as some of the health benefits.

Christer Ågren

Source: Baseline emission projections and further cost-effective reductions of air pollution impacts in Europe – A 2010 perspective. 27 August 2010. By F. Wagner et al., International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria. Access the reports and more information on the NEC directive and its revision:

    Emissions  Change
SO2   2000 10,385  
  Baseline 2020   2,626 -75%
  Optimised 2020  2,324 -78%
  MRR 2020  1,779 -83%
NOx    2000 12,251  
  Baseline 2020    5,433 -56%
  Optimised 2020   5,176 -58%
  MRR 2020    4,434 -64%
 NH3 2000 4,021  
  Baseline 2020    3,708 -8%
  Optimised 2020    3,012 -25%
  MRR 2020    2,254 -44%
VOCs 2000  11,659  
  Baseline 2020   6,018 -48%
  Optimised 2020    5,970 -49%
  MRR 2020    4,068 -65%
PM2.5  2000 1,798  
  Baseline 2020    1,089 -39%
  Optimised 2020   1,032 -43%
  MRR 2020  574 -68%

Table 1. Emissions of air pollutants from land-based sources in EU27 in 2000 and in 2020 under the P10 energy scenario (kilotonnes).

Baseline: Baseline scenario reflecting current legislation and policy, in this case assuming full implementation of most existing air quality legislation.
Optimised: New optimised scenario achieving the environmental targets of the 2005 thematic strategy on air pollution.
MRR: Maximum reductions in the RAINS model, i.e. limited to include only so-called end-of-pipe technical measures.


  Human health  Natural environment
  PM2.5     Ozone Acidification Eutrophication
2000      200.9 22,700 280,000 1,188,000
Baseline 2020    115.6 17,100 89,000 947,000
Optimised 2020       106.4 16,900 67,000 819,000
MRR 2020       83,2 15,300 42,000 609,000

Table 2. Air pollution effects in the EU27 in 2000 and 2020 under the P10 energy scenario.

PM2.5: million years of life lost.
Ozone: premature deaths.
Acidification: square kilometres of unprotected forests.
Eutrophication: square kilometres of unprotected ecosystems.

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