European emission trends updated

Ammonia and primary particles are reported to have risen in some countries. / Tarang Hirani CC-BY-NC-ND

Overall air pollutant emissions keep on slowly shrinking – sulphur emissions show the biggest reductions, while there is much less improvement for ammonia and particulate matter.

Since 1980, total European emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) – the most significant acidifying pollutant and an important precursor to health-damaging secondary fine particles (PM2.5) – from land-based emission sources have fallen by 87 per cent, from around 53 million tonnes in 1980 to 6.7 million tonnes in 2014.

Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ammonia have also gone down, although to a lesser extent. VOCs and NOx have more than halved (-59 and -52 per cent, respectively) since 1980, while ammonia emissions – which emanate primarily from agricultural activities – have dropped by only 33 per cent.

Historic emissions of primary particulate matter (PM2.5) are not as well documented as those of other air pollutants, and many countries lack emissions data for the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2014 it is estimated that emissions of PM2.5 from land-based sources have fallen by 15 per cent, from 3 to 2.6 million tonnes.

Although overall emissions continue to fall, the downward trend has flattened out over the last decade. This is especially the case for ammonia and primary particles, which are even reported to be increasing in some countries over the last few years.

Looking specifically at the 28 member states of the EU, between 1980 and 2014 the emissions of SO2 came down by as much as 92 per cent, while those of NOx and VOCs fell respectively by 55 and 62 per cent. Emissions of ammonia fell by only 26 per cent. Primary PM2.5 particles were reduced by 27 per cent between 2000 and 2014.

Emissions of SO2 from international shipping in European waters showed a steady increase up to around 2006, after which emissions have fallen, primarily as a result of ship fuel sulphur regulations introduced by the EU and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The emission reductions were particularly marked in the northern Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECA), which cover the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, including the English Channel. It should be noted that the EMEP data for shipping emissions has been updated only up to 2011, which means that no trends after that year have been accounted for.

Ship NOx emissions increased steadily for many years, but appeared to stabilise, or even come down somewhat, during the economic crisis of 2008–2009. However, because of the lack of effective international ship NOx regulation, they are likely to increase again as the economy and trade grow.

The data in Table 1 is based on figures reported by countries themselves to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), and was compiled by the Centre on Emission Inventories and Projections (CEIP) of the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP). The Convention’s EMEP 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 (including transboundary movements between countries), covering acidifying, eutrophying, photo-oxidant, and particle pollution. This shows that for most European countries the biggest share of depositions of sulphur and nitrogen emanate from outside their own territory.

Since land-based emissions have been falling much faster than those from international shipping, shipping’s contribution to pollutant depositions and concentrations has been getting bigger and bigger over time. For 2013 it was estimated that ship emissions were responsible for ten per cent or more of the total depositions of both sulphur and oxidised nitrogen compounds in many countries (see Table 2). In the coastal areas of these countries, shipping’s contribution to the overall pollution load is even higher. Countries that are particularly exposed to air pollution from shipping include Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, France and the United Kingdom.

Christer Ågren

Report: “Transboundary particulate matter, photo-oxidants, acidifying and eutrophying components.” EMEP Status Report 1/2016.

Table 1: European emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (as NO2), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), ammonia (NH3), and particulate matter (PM2.5) (kilotonnes). Data for 2000 and 2014 is from the 2016 EMEP report, while data for 1980 and 1990 is from earlier EMEP reports or from the EMEP website. Russia in the table refers only to the western part of the Russian Federation.

Table 2: European countries where the proportion of air pollutant depositions of sulphur and oxidised nitrogen from ships is the most marked.


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