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EEA reports finds Europe to exceed NOx emission ceiling, mostly due to road transport

Comparison of aggregated EU-27 emission projections and ceilings reported in 2010. Source: EEA. Click to enlarge.

The EU-27 and its Member States must meet legally binding limits for four air pollutants set by the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive). The annual status report released by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows that while EU-27 emissions for three air pollutants are projected to meet the ceilings, nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions for the EU-27 as a whole will exceed its ceiling by 17%. Ten Member States expect to miss their respective NOx ceilings.

The road transport sector bears most of the blame for the anticipated exceedances, according to the EEA, contributing to more than 40 % of total EU-27 NOx emissions in 2009. Furthermore, although emissions from the sector have decreased since 1990, the reduction over the past two decades has not been as large as originally anticipated. This is partly because the sector has grown more than expected and partly because vehicle emission standards have not always delivered the anticipated level of NOx reductions.

The NEC Directive status report 2010 documents the most recent emissions (2009) and projection information (2010) for the four pollutants covered by the directive: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia (NH3).

Even taking into account NOx control measures already in place within the Member States, the NOx emissions for the EU-27 are still projected to be 6% above the aggregated Member States limits (known as the Annex I ceilings) and 17% above the stricter ceiling for the European Union as a whole (the Annex II ceiling) set for 2010.

Some Member States, such as the Netherlands and Slovenia, expect to exceed their respective NOx ceilings by only small margins (less than 5%). In contrast, Germany and France expect to exceed their ceilings by 328 kilotonnes and 275 kilotonnes respectively—equivalent to exceedances of 31% and 34%. Austria, while expecting lower surpluses in absolute terms, anticipates exceeding its ceilings by an even larger margin (40%).

For the other three pollutants (SO2 primarily from fuel combustion for electricity generation and by industry; NMVOCs from the use of solvents and from the road transport sector; and NH3 – mainly from agriculture) the EU-27 projections are all below the emissions ceilings defined by the directive. Most Member States also anticipate meeting their emission ceilings for these pollutants.

The European Commission has recently launched a comprehensive review of its air policy, building on the 2005 Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution (TSAP) and Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) initiatives. This follows discussions and agreement within the Commission that further actions to improve air quality are a pressing need. The Commission plans to focus on a number of immediate measures and a more comprehensive review of EU’s air policy by 2013 at the latest.

This revision of policy, including the NEC Directive, is expected to propose stricter emission ceilings for 2020 in order to protect health and the environment further. It could also, for the first time, introduce a ceiling for fine particulate matter (PM2.5). In the absence of new legislation, however, the NEC Directive remains in force and requires that future emissions stay below national ceilings also after 2010.

Separately, discussions over setting new 2020 national emission ceilings for European countries have started within the UNECE’s Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.



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