Progress in EU air policy review

Illustration: Lars-Erik Håkansson

Next year the Commission is to present an updated EU clean air strategy. Scenarios for future air pollutant emissions indicate that these can be significantly cut by combining technical abatement measures with stricter climate policies.

Preparatory work on the review and revision of EU air pollution policy is ongoing, and on 21 June a Stakeholder Expert Group (SEG) met in Brussels to be updated on progress and to discuss the information developed so far.

The review process started in March last year with a report from the Commission (see AN 2/11, pp 4–5) and two previous stakeholder meetings have been held in June 2011 and January 2012.

The process is expected to result in a clean air strategy package that is to be presented by the Commission in autumn 2013 – a year that has been announced by Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik as the EU Year of Air.

A main component of the package will be a revised Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution (TSAP), updating the previous one from 2005, establishing new targets for reducing damage to health and the environment from air pollution as well as associated ambition levels for future cuts in air pollutant emissions.

The TSAP is expected to be accompanied by a proposal to revise the 2001 National Emission Ceilings (NEC) directive, setting binding emission reduction targets for each member state for five air pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ammonia and particulate matter. The target year for achieving the reductions is yet to be decided, but it is likely to be 2020, 2025 or 2030, or possibly there could be more than one target year.

Originally it was expected that the Commission would also propose to revise the air quality standards under the 2008 air quality directive, but in view of all the ongoing infringement proceedings against member states failing to comply with the current standards for PM10 and NO2, there appears to be some hesitation from the Commission on whether such a revision should be proposed as soon as next year.

In order to achieve the needed emission reductions, a series of sector-related initiatives are being considered and investigated, including:

  • Domestic combustion – emission standards for solid-fuel boilers and stoves
  • Smaller industrial combustion installations, i.e. those with a rated thermal input of 1–50 megawatts
  • Road vehicles – possible introduction of stricter Euro standards;
  • Non-road mobile machinery;
  • Agriculture, with the focus on measures to cut ammonia emissions;
  • International shipping, e.g. expanding the sulphur emission control areas (SECAs) and designating nitrogen emission control areas (NECAs).

For some of these sectors, preparatory work for new or revised legislation is already ongoing. One example is domestic combustion where emission standards and energy efficiency requirements for new solid-fuel boilers will be proposed under the Eco-design directive. Another example is non-road mobile machinery, where a revision of the directive setting emission standards is already long overdue.

A major component of the review process is the emission scenario analysis, which is carried out by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). IIASA presented a new baseline scenario1 showing projected emissions for 2020, 2030 and 2050 based on the most recent expectations for economic development and implementation of EU policies on energy, transport, agriculture and climate change.

The baseline projection for air pollutant emissions should in principle also include the effects of full implementation of all existing national and EU-wide legislation and measures. But there are some relevant pieces of legislation where the impacts on future activity levels cannot currently be quantified and these are therefore not accounted for. This includes measures that may be required to comply with EU air quality limit values for particles (PM10 and PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as well as measures needed under the 1991 Nitrates directive to protect water quality.

In spite of a foreseen 40 per cent increase in economic activity between 2010 and 2030, as a result of structural changes in the energy and transport sectors and the progressive implementation of emission control legislation, between 2005 and 2030 the emissions of the main air pollutants sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter (PM2.5) are expected to drop by 73, 66, 39 and 38 per cent respectively, while those of ammonia are expected to increase by 2 per cent.

On top of the baseline scenario, three other scenarios were investigated:

  • Maximum technically feasible reductions (MTFR), which assume a gradual phase-in of currently available emission abatement techniques;
  • Decarbonisation (DECARB), which is based on the “Roadmap to 2050” energy scenario and assumes an 80 per cent cut in EU greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2050
  • Maximum control efforts (MCE), which use the same energy scenario as DECARB and in addition the application of MTFR (including premature scrapping) and a “healthy diet” scenario that has some impacts on agricultural meat production.

The impact on emissions of the various scenarios is shown in the table. Note that these scenarios and the resulting emission figures are still preliminary – they will be further developed and refined this autumn after in-depth consultations with the member states.

Table: Emissions of air pollutants in EU-27 in 2005 and projections for 2020, 2030 and 2050 under four different scenarios (kilotonnes).

BASE: Baseline - reflects current legislation and policy.
DECARB: Decarbonisation - assumes an 80% cut in EU GHG emissions between by 2050.
MTFR: Maximum technically feasible reductions - a gradual phase-in of currently available emission abatement techniques.
MCE: Maximum control efforts - same energy scenario as DECARB plus application of MTFR (including premature scrapping) and less meat consumption

After this refinement, the next step for IIASA is to apply 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 will achieve given environmental targets at differing levels of ambition. Together with an analysis of the associated costs and monetised benefits, this scenario analysis will next year be used to establish the level of ambition for the EU air quality policy for future target years.

As shown by the DECARB and MCE scenarions, policies and strategies for greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions have a big impact on both the overall level of energy use and the use of fossil fuels in particular and thus also on air pollutant emissions. Consequently, climate policies will have a significant impact on the costs of air pollution control.

IIASA has estimated that total air pollution control costs in the EU will increase from the current 0.5 per cent of GDP to 0.6 per cent by 2020, but after 2020 the costs in relation to GDP will under the baseline scenario gradually decline to 0.4 per cent by 2050. Under the DECARB scenario, however, by 2050 both the air pollution control costs and the emissions would be up to 20 per cent lower as compared to the baseline.

In addition to the scenario analysis, participants at the June SEG meeting were informed about work on a number of sector-related issues, including road vehicles, non-road mobile machinery, domestic solid-fuel combustion, agriculture and international shipping. There were also presentations2 on air quality modelling and monitoring, health impacts and research findings.

Regarding domestic solid-fuel combustion, these boilers and stoves released 616,000 tonnes of PM2.5 in 2005, more than one third of the total EU emissions. An EU-wide adoption of the draft forthcoming Eco-design emission standards could according to IIASA’s calculations reduce these emissions by 70 per cent in 2030, compared with a 40 per cent reduction under business as usual.

Note that measures under the Eco-design directive would impact only new boilers and stoves sold after 2016. More concerted action under the MCE scenario that assumes the application of best available technology (BAT) to all these sources irrespective of their age, could cut emissions by more than 90 per cent. So far only a few member states, such as Germany, have introduced legislation to cut emissions from domestic wood-burning.

In a separate study, environmental consultancy VITO is investigating possible measures to reduce the emissions from international shipping, such as additional emission control areas (ECAs) for SO2 and NOx, emission limit values for PM, and ship speed limits. Results from this study are expected later this year.

The Commission announced that it intends to hold a public consultation on policy options towards the end of this year and that the fourth Stakeholder Expert Group meeting is scheduled to take place in early December.

Christer Ågren

1) The IIASA reports prepared for the EU air pollution policy review
2)  The presentations held at the 21 June SEG meeting


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