Air pollution by industries and households

Data from March 2016. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database Next update of the article: February 2017

This article analyses the emissions to air of five acidifying gases and ozone precursor substances in the European Union (EU) in a breakdown by industries and households that are responsible for their generation. The data source is the European environmental accounts. The article also briefly explains the differences between air emissions accounts reported under the Regulation (EU) No 691/2011 on European environmental economic accounts, and the data reported under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) in so-called national emission inventories.

The EU-28 emissions of acidifying gases (sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3)) decreased by 20.2 % between 2008 and 2013.This represents a reduction of SO2, NOx and NH3 of 4.9 million tonnes of SO2 equivalents (SO2-eq.). In 2013, emissions of nitrogen oxides accounted for the highest share of the acidifying potential (39.4 %) followed by ammonia (37.6 %) and sulphur dioxide (23 %).

The emissions of ozone precursors (including nitrogen oxides (NOx), methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO) and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC)) fell by 17.5 % between 2008 and 2013. The main pollutants contributing to the tropospheric ozone formation potential in 2013 were NOx and NMVOC with 56.1 % and 32.4 % respectively.

Figure 1: Emission of acidifying gases, EU-28, 2008 - 2013
(thousand tonnes of SO2 equivalents ) - Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2)
Figure 2: Emission of acidifying gases by economic activity, EU-28, 2008 and 2013
(% of total emissions of tonnes of SO2 equivalents of SO2, NOx and NH3) - Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2)
Figure 3: Emission of acidifying gases by economic activity, EU-28, 2013
(thousand tonnes of SO2 equivalents of SO2, NOx and NH3) - Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2)
Figure 4: Intensity of acidifying gas emissions by economic activity, EU-28, 2008 and 2013
(grammes of SO2 equivalents of SO2, NOx and NH3 per EUR) - Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2) and (nama_10_a64))
Figure 5: Emission of ozone precursors, EU-28, 2008 - 2013
(thousand tonnes of NMVOC equivalents ) - Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2)
Figure 6: Emission of ozone precursors by economic activity, EU-28, 2008 and 2013
(% of total emissions of tonnes of NMVOC equivalents of NOx, CO, NMVOC and CH4) - Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2)
Figure 7: Emission of ozone precursors by economic activity, EU-28, 2013
(thousand tonnes of NMVOC equivalents of NOx, CO, NMVOC and CH4) - Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2)
Figure 8: Intensity of ozone precursor emissions by economic activity, EU-28, 2008 and 2013
(grammes of NMVOC equivalents of NOx, CO, NMVOC and CH4 per EUR) - Source: Eurostat (env_ac_ainah_r2) and (nama_10_a64))
Table 1: Differences between inventories and accounts
Table 2: Calculation of aggregated environmental pressures

Main statistical findings

Acidifying gases

Several air pollutants contribute to the acidification of the environment. The most important ones are discussed in this article and comprise sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3). The impact of SO2, NOx and NH3 can be observed in the progressive degradation of soils, water and forests. They also contribute to the formation of fine particles in the air that cause respiratory diseases. The acidifying potential of SO2, NOx and NH3 is commonly measured in SO2 equivalents (SO2-eq.). The conversion factors are shown in Table 2.

In 2013, emissions of nitrogen oxides accounted for the highest share of the acidifying potential (39.4 % or 7.7 million tonnes of SO2-eq.) followed by ammonia (37.6 % or 7.3 million tonnes of SO2-eq.) and sulphur dioxide (23 % or 4.5 million tonnes of SO2-eq.). The emission of acidifying gases decreased by 20.2 % between 2008 and 2013. This represents a reduction of 4.9 million tonnes of SO2-eq. emissions. Emissions of nitrogen oxides fell by 20.4 %, ammonia by 3.5 % and sulphur dioxide by 37.4 % (Figure 1).

Acidifying gas emissions by economic activity

Agriculture, forestry and fishing account for the largest share of all industries: In 2013, these activities emitted 38.8 % of total acidifying potential, compared with 32.3 % in 2008. Although it has decreased between 2008 and 2013 by 4 % (in absolute terms by 0.3 million tonnes of SO2-eq.), mainly due to the reduction in livestock numbers, changes in the management of organic manures and the decreased use of nitrogenous fertilisers, it has decreased less than most of the other economic activities discussed in this chapter. Ammonia is the largest contributor to the acidifying emissions from agriculture, forestry and fishing with 6.8 million tonnes of SO2-eq.

The second largest activity with contribution to acidifying emissions in 2013 was transportation and storage with a share of 20.9 % or 4.2 million tonnes of SO2-eq., closely followed by the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply industry (13.8 % or 2.7 million tonnes of SO2-eq.). While the largest share of emissions in transport came from NOx, in the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply industry SO2 emissions were predominant (Figure 2 and 3).

All activities recorded significant drops in acidifying emissions. The biggest decrease was observed in electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply industry, which dropped from 4.4 to 2.7 million tonnes of SO2-eq. (-39 %) between 2008 and 2013. The more systematic use of end-of-pipe pollution filters and the use of more efficient combustion technologies in the electricity and heat production are the main contributors to this development.

Intensity of acidifying gas emissions

The ratio of acidifying emissions in tonnes of SO2-eq. per million euros of gross value added (GVA) measures the intensity of acidifying gas emissions of industries (Figure 4). In 2013, with 40.1 grammes per euro, a predominance of agriculture, forestry and fishing over other industries can be observed. This is due to the fact that the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry has large emissions of ammonia and has a comparatively low contribution to the GVA of the economy. Compared to the year 2008 the intensity of acidifying gas emissions decreased in all main industries. The biggest decrease was recorded for the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning industry (-39 %).

Ozone precursors

Tropospheric ozone occurs when so-called ozone precursor substances (i.e. non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and methane (CH4)) react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight. High ozone levels occur during the warmer summer months as the sun makes e.g. exhaust fumes from vehicles react in the atmosphere. The emissions are known to damage human tissue and are a health risk, especially for people with respiratory problems. Through the National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NECD) and the Gothenburg Protocol under UNECE-CLRTAP, the EU focuses on the emissions of NOx and NMVOC as they are the most relevant of the four pollutants.

Similarly to the emissions of acidifying gases, the emissions of ozone precursors in the EU fell between 2008 and 2013 for all pollutants. The total change in emissions of NMVOC, NOx, CO and CH4 was a decrease of 17.5 % or 5.1 million tonnes of NMVOC equivalents (NMVOC-eq.). The main pollutants contributing to the tropospheric ozone formation are NOx and NMVOC with 56.1 % and 32.4 % respectively. Between 2008 and 2013, the emissions of NOx fell by 25.7 % or 3.4 million tonnes of NMVOC-eq., and NMVOC by 15.2 % or 1.2 million tonnes (Figure 5).

Ozone precursor emissions by economic activity

The highest EU emitters of ozone precursors in 2013 were households with 25.6 % and the transport industry with 23.5 % of total EU ozone precursor emissions. The manufacturing industry is the third largest emitter (18.7 % of total ozone precursor emissions).

Between 2008 and 2013, the biggest absolute drop occurred in transport industry (1.6 million tonnes of NMVOC-eq. or -23 %). (Figure 6 and 7).

Ozone precursor emission intensities

Ozone precursor emission intensity is the ratio of ozone precursor emissions in tonnes of NMVOC equivalents per million euros of gross value added (GVA). Figure 8 shows that in 2013 agriculture, forestry and fishing (15.6 grammes NMVOC-eq. per euro) was, relative to GVA, the most important contributor to ozone precursor emissions in the EU, followed by mining and quarrying, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply and transportation and storage. Compared to year 2008 the intensity decreased in all main industries except mining and quarrying, where an 8.1 % increase was detected. The biggest decrease was observed in transportation and storage (-20.4 %).

Data sources and availability

Compilation approach

The source for Eurostat's air emissions accounts is the Regulation (EU) No. 691/2011 on European environmental economic accounts that stipulates data requirements of air emissions accounts. Annual data are transmitted by the EU Member States, as well as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries and candidate countries.

There are two possible approaches for compiling air emissions accounts:

  1. The inventory-first-approach starts from existing national emission inventories and re-arranges those data to a format compatible with national accounts. There is a correspondence to NACE and households for each inventory source code: the Common Reporting Framework - CRF (used in greenhouse gas emissions inventories reported under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)), the Nomenclature For Reporting - NFR (used in reporting emissions under the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP)) and the Selected Nomenclature for sources of Air Pollution - SNAP (coding establshed before introducing the two mentioned nomenclatures). However, the correspondence is not always a one to one relationship and certain models and transformations are required.
  2. The energy-first-approach starts from energy statistics/balances which are rearranged to form energy accounts from which air emissions are calculated using emission factors. Each country applies its individual methodological steps depending on the primary statistical sources available.

Emission accounts versus emission inventories

In the reporting of air pollutants (as well as greenhouse gases) two different approaches are internationally established – air emissions accounts and national emission inventories (for example for reporting obligations under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution). The main differences are explained in Table 1.


SO2 equivalent and NMVOC equivalent

Emissions of individual acidifying gases and ozone precursor substances are converted and aggregated to provide information for the environmental pressures 'acidifying potential' and 'tropospheric ozone formation potential'. They use common units (SO2 equivalent and NMVOC equivalent) to allow comparison and combination of the relative effect of different gases – for example, a single kilogram of ammonia has 1.9 times the acidic effect of a kilogram of sulphur dioxide (see Table 2 for more details on the conversion factors employed).

Analysis by economic activity

In air emissions accounts, the emissions data are organised by economic activity, using NACE. This makes it possible to have an integrated environmental-economic analysis to supplement national accounts. Economic activities encompass production by all businesses resident in a country, including those operating ships, aircraft and other transportation equipment in other countries.

Air emissions accounts also include households as consumers. Their emissions are accounted for whenever household consumption is directly responsible for environmental pressures. For example, emissions from a privately owned car are counted under households, whereas cars owned by transport businesses (such as taxis) are counted under transport services.

The following activity groupings are used in this article:

  • agriculture, forestry and fishing — NACE Rev. 2 Section A;
  • mining and quarrying — NACE Rev. 2 Section B;
  • manufacturing — NACE Rev. 2 Section C;
  • electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply — NACE Rev. 2 Section D;
  • transportation and storage — NACE Rev. 2 Section H;
  • other services, water supply and construction — NACE Rev. 2 Sections E to G and I to U, in other words all remaining economic activities as defined in NACE;
  • households — households as consumers.

Context

The need to supplement information on the economy with environmental indicators has been recognised in a European Commission Communication titled 'GDP and beyond'COM(2009) 433). Furthermore, similar recommendations have been made within the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress,the so-called Stiglitz report. The recommendations support the expansion of the statistical understanding of human well-being by supplementing economic indicators such as GDP with additional information, including physical indicators related to the environment.

Air emissions accounts measure the interplay between the economy and the environment with respect to air emissions, in order to assess whether current production and consumption activities are on a sustainable path of development. Measuring sustainable development is a complex undertaking as it has to incorporate economic, social and environmental indicators. The data obtained from air emissions accounts may subsequently feed into political decision-making, underpinning policies that target both continued economic growth and sustainable development, for example, initiatives such as the Europe 2020 strategy, which aims to achieve a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy for the EU by 2020.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Publications

Database

env_ac_ainah_r2
env_ac_aibrid_r2

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

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