Emissions are falling – but not enough

Photo: why 137 / flickr.com / CC BY

While emissions of acidifying sulphur pollutants in the EU have come down by 84 per cent since 1990, those of nitrogen compounds have fallen only by 41 per cent.

Emissions in the EU of most air pollutants continue to gradually decline, according to a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) that documents trends in emissions between 1990 and 2012 and constitutes the EU’s annual report to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP).

The 1999 Gothenburg Protocol to the LRTAP Convention contains national emission ceilings for four pollutants – sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) and ammonia (NH3) – that parties to the protocol must meet by 2010 and thereafter. In addition to ceilings for individual countries, the protocol also specifies ceilings for the EU, itself a party to the protocol. 

For the year 2012, seven member states (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Slovenia) reported NOx emissions higher than their ceilings, and four countries exceeded their NH3 ceilings (Croatia, Denmark, Finland and Spain). The ceilings for NMVOCs and SO2 were met by all member states.

Between 1990 and 2012, emissions in the EU’s 28 member states of the four pollutants SO2, NOx, NMVOC and NH3 dropped by 84, 51, 60 and 28 per cent respectively. The report includes country-by-country data as well as information on which sectors are responsible for the emissions.

It also provides emissions data for a number of other air pollutants that are covered by various protocols under the LRTAP Convention, such as particulate matter (PM), heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants. For example, emissions of mercury (Hg) dropped by 67 per cent between 1990 and 2012, and those of PM2.5 came down by 19 per cent between 2000 and 2012.

Christer Ågren

The report: European Union emission inventory report 1990-2012 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) (June 2014). EEA Technical report No 12/2014.

Figure 1: Emission trends in the EU for some of the main air pollutants 1990-2012.

Figure 2: Share of EU emissions by sector group in 2012.

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