The European Environment Agency has said that air pollutants are still being emitted above legal limits in the EU. Recent data from the EU Member States shows that a number of countries continued to breach their emission ceilings in 2012.
Under the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive, EU Member States have individual emission limits, known as ‘ceilings’, that were to be achieved by 2010 for four different pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3) and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC).
An early analysis of the official data shows that 11 Member States breached at least one ceiling in 2012, compared to 10 countries in 2011. As in previous years, the most commonly breached ceiling was nitrogen oxide (NOx), with nine Member States exceeding their designated levels.
In Malta the chart shows that NOx in 2012 was recorded at: 8 and NOx in 2011 was recorded at: -2.
Countries that are below the national ceiling have a negative value, e.g. -45% means 45% below the national ceiling. Countries that exceeded the ceiling will show a positive value for example 35% above the ceiling.
Road transport contributes around 40 % of total EU NOx emissions and is one of the main factors behind the large number of NOx exceedances – reductions from this sector over the last two decades have not been as large as originally anticipated.
Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director said, “Air pollution is still a very real problem – just look at the high concentrations of air pollution recently seen across large areas of western Europe. We need to improve this situation by making further emissions cuts. While new technologies and practices can help, we also need to encourage individuals to take action, for example by encouraging alternatives to car use.”
Two countries – Denmark and Finland – exceeded the limit for ammonia (NH3), while only Luxembourg breached the ceiling for non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC). Luxembourg was the only country to breach two ceilings in 2012, for NOx and NMVOC. All 27 Member States met the sulphur dioxide (SO2) limits.
The data show that several countries have persistent problems meeting their national emission limits – for example, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain breached NOx ceilings in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Denmark and Finland have exceeded the NH3 ceilings for three years running. Despite multiple breaches of the ceilings, emissions of all four pollutants have decreased in the EU overall between 2011 and 2012.
New ceilings proposed from 2020
Air quality has improved in recent decades, but it is still a problem in many parts of Europe, where most city-dwellers are exposed to levels of air pollutants above the standards recommended by the World Health Organisation.
In December 2013 the European Commission proposed a new Clean Air Policy Package, following an in-depth review of current EU air policy. A key objective of the legislative package is to ensure that countries comply with existing legislation by 2020. A second aim of the package is to reduce the longer term impacts of air pollution.
The package proposes revising the NEC Directive, with new 2020 and 2030 reduction commitments for the four currently-covered pollutants, as well as new ceilings for two additional pollutants – fine particulate matter (PM2,5) and methane (CH4).