Ship emissions continue to increase

While air pollutant emissions from land-based sources in Europe keep on slowly shrinking, some reductions are countered by rising emissions from international shipping.

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 85 per cent, from around 53 million tonnes in 1980 to 8.1 million tonnes in 2010.

Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and ammonia have also gone down, although to a lesser extent. VOCs have more than halved (-55 per cent) since 1980, while NOx and ammonia emissions have dropped by 44 and 34 per cent, respectively.

Since the late 1990s, emissions of primary fine particles (PM2.5) have been attracting increasing attention, mainly because of their negative impacts on health. However, these emissions are not as well documented as those of other air pollutants, and many countries lack emissions data for the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2010 it is estimated that emissions of PM2.5 from land-based sources have fallen by 18 per cent, from 2.8 to 2.3 million tonnes.

Emissions of NOx and SO2 from international shipping in European waters show a steady increase. Since 1980, ship emissions of SO2 have gone up from 1.7 to 2.4 million tonnes (a 37 per cent increase), and those of NOx from 2.4 to 4.0 million tonnes (64 per cent).

The data in Table 1 is taken from figures reported by countries themselves to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, and was compiled by 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.

For most European countries the biggest share of depositions of sulphur and nitrogen emanate from outside their own territory, and an increasing share of the depositions originate from international shipping.

Since land-based emissions are gradually coming down, while those from international shipping show a continuous increase, shipping’s contribution to pollutant depositions and concentrations is getting bigger and bigger. For 2010 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 coastal areas, shipping’s contribution to the overall pollution load is even higher. Countries that are particularly exposed to air pollution from shipping include Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Christer Ågren

Report: Transboundary acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone in Europe in 2010. EMEP Status Report 1/2011.

EU emissions inventories

A recent report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) confirms the initial assessment from earlier this year, showing 12 EU member states exceeded their binding limits under the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive in 2010.

Nitrogen oxide (NOx) limits were exceeded most frequently, with 12 countries – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden – failing to keep emissions below agreed ceilings.

Road transport contributes approximately 40 per cent of total NOx emissions in the EU, and reductions of NOx from this sector over the last two decades have been less than originally anticipated. This is partly because transport has grown more than expected, and partly because actual NOx emissions from diesel vehicles on the roads have turned out to be much higher than expected when the vehicle emission limit standards were set.

Better progress has been made in reducing sulphur dioxide (SO2). Overall SO2 emissions in the EU were more than 40 per cent below the EU’s ceiling for this pollutant, and no member states exceeded their SO2 ceiling.

Spain was the only member state to report exceeding three of its four emission ceilings (NOx, VOCs, ammonia), followed by Germany (NOx, VOCs) and Finland (NOx, ammonia) with two exceedances each.

In late July the EEA published another EU air pollutant emission inventory based on member states reporting to the Gothenburg Protocol under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP). Reporting under the CLRTAP and the NEC Directive can differ. For example, some countries have reported more recent data to the CLRTAP.

Reports: NEC Directive Status Report. EEA Technical report no. 6/2012.
European Union emission inventory report 1990–2010 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP). EEA Technical report no. 8/2012.


Table 1: European emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides (as NO2), VOCs, ammonia, and PM2.5 (kilotonnes). Data for 2000 and 2010 is from the 2012 EMEP report, while data for 1980 and 1990 is from earlier EMEP reports. Russia in the table refers only to the western parts 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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