European countries struggle to meet emission limits due to emissions from agriculture and transport

European countries struggle to meet emission limits due to emissions from agriculture and transport

4 July 2017

Eleven EU Member States breached air pollution ceilings in 2015 mostly due to high emissions from agricultural and transport sources, according to new data and a briefing released by the European Environment Agency (EEA). The briefing includes information on countries’ 2015 emissions and national ceilings for different pollutants.

Member States recently reported the first information under the new EU National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive (/2284/EU). The EEA briefing NEC Directive reporting status 2017, gives a progress update on how Member States are meeting their emission ceilings under the NEC Directive. The briefing also provides an assessment of the projected emissions reported for 2020 and 2030 in relation to the Member States’ reduction commitments for those years set in the new NEC Directive.

The new NEC Directive restricts emissions for five key air pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx); non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs); sulfur dioxide (SO2); ammonia (NH3); and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These pollutants contribute to poor air quality, which remains the single largest environmental health risk in Europe, causing respiratory and heart problems and shortening lifespans. They also can harm vegetation and sensitive ecosystems.

On the basis of unadjusted emission totals, the following 11 Member States reported exceedances of their NEC Directive national ceilings for one or more pollutants in 2015: Austria; Belgium; Denmark; Finland; France; Germany; Hungary; Ireland; Luxembourg; Spain; and Sweden.

  • Six Member States exceeded their NOx emission ceilings in 2015. Austria, Luxembourg, Ireland and Germany exceeded their NOx ceilings the most, in percentage terms, by 28%, 19%, 13% and 13%, respectively. In absolute amounts, the largest emitters of NOx in 2015 were Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain. Between 2014 and 2015, 20 Member States reported emission reductions for NOx. The total reduction for the aggregated EU emissions amounts to −2.1 % between 2014 and 2015.

  • In 2015, six Member States (Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal) did not attain their NMVOCs ceilings. The highest exceedance in 2015, in percentage terms, was reported for Ireland (84%). This is due to the recent addition of NMVOC emissions from agriculture into the country’s emission inventory. The largest emitters of NMVOCs in 2015 were Germany, Italy and United Kingdom. Between 2014 and 2015, 10 Member States reported emission reductions for NMVOCs. The aggregated EU emissions increased by just 0.5% between 2014 and 2015.

  • Six Member States (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Spain and Sweden) exceeded their NH3 ceilings in 2015. The highest exceedances, in percentage terms, were reported for Germany (38%) and Spain (34%). The smallest exceedance was reported for Austria (1%). The largest emitters of NH3 were Germany, France and Spain. Between 2014 and 2015, eight EU Member States reported emission reductions for NH3. For the second consecutive year, EU emissions of NH3 increased, by 1.7 % between 2014 and 2015.

Projected emissions reported by 23 Member States show that 18 do not consider themselves on track towards meeting their reduction commitments set for 2020 for NOx, NH3, NMVOCs, SO2 and/or PM2.5 on the basis of the policies and measures they currently have in place. Similarly, 22 Member States are not on track to meet one or more of their 2030 commitments.

For the EU as a whole, however, emissions for three pollutants (NMVOCs, SO2, and fine particulate matter PM2.5) are already below the EU’s own 2020 emission reduction commitment set for these pollutants. Only NOx requires a further, more significant, reduction in order to meet the 2020 reduction commitment.

More substantial reductions are still needed for all pollutants if the EU is to achieve its 2030 emission reduction commitments.


NOx emissions from road transport contribute 39% of the EU emissions total. They are one of the main reasons for the large number of NOx exceedances since 2010. NOx reductions from this sector have been lower than originally anticipated over the past two decades, partly because transport has grown more than expected, and partly owing to the larger than expected growth in the number of diesel vehicles that produce higher NOx emissions than petrol-fuelled vehicles.

The high real-world emissions of NOx, particularly from diesel passenger cars and vans, have contributed significantly to the share of emissions caused by the road transport sector. The EU’s annual air quality limit value for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is widely exceeded across Europe, and more than 90% of the values above the annual limit value can be observed at traffic monitoring stations.


Six Member States continue to exceed their respective NH3 ceilings. 94% of NH3 emissions come from agriculture, mainly from the handling of animal manure and the use of fertilisers. NH3 emissions have decreased since 1990, but not to anywhere near the same extent as the other pollutants covered by the NEC Directive. A number of technical measures exist to reduce NH3 emissions. A main reason for the high or even rising NH3 emissions in some countries is an increasing number of pig or poultry facilities, without implementing measures and/or technologies to limit emissions. NH3 emissions from agriculture contribute to the formation of PM2.5 in the atmosphere and can contribute to high-PM episodes in Europe. NH3 (and NOx) emissions also contribute to an oversupply of airborne nitrogen in sensitive ecosystems, reducing for example species richness in nutrient-poor grasslands.

—“NEC Directive reporting status 2017 – The need to reduce air pollution in Europe”

The new NEC Directive establishes a process that allows Member States to adjust the reported emissions in their inventories downwards for compliance checking with the emission ceilings if certain conditions are met. Nine Member States have requested their data be adjusted in this manner; the European Commission is presently reviewing the applications. The numbers of exceeded ceilings described in the EEA’s briefing will be lower if these applications are approved later in 2017.

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