Air pollution statistics
- Data from September 2016. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: August 2017.
This article highlights the emission levels of the following most important air pollutants in the European Union (EU): sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). However, greenhouse gas emissions are not analysed here, but in a specific article.
Air pollution harms human health and the environment. Nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter pollution pose serious health risks while Europe's sensitive ecosystem areas are affected by acid deposition of excess sulphur and nitrogen compounds (SOx, NOx, NH3).
Air pollutants are emitted from human activities, mainly the combustion of fuels. Thanks to a wide range of environmental policy measures, emissions of air pollutants in Europe decreased significantly over the last 25 years.
Main statistical findings
For the last 25 years (1990 to 2014) the EU-28 recorded reductions in emissions of all air pollutants considered in this article (see Figure 1). The biggest fall was reported for sulphur oxides (SOx) which decreased by almost 90%, followed by non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) which declined by nearly 60 %. Emissions of nitrous oxides (NOx) more than halved and emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) decreased by roughly one third; while the smallest decrease was reported for ammonia (NH3), emissions of which fell by roughly one fourth.
The following main findings are widely based on the European Union emission inventory report 1990–2014 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)(published by EEA).
SOx has been the pollutant with the greatest reduction in emissions across the EU-28. Emissions of SOx in 2014 stood at 3.1 million tonnes compared to 25.4 million tonnes in 1990 (see Figure 2). The majority of SOx emissions were reduced in the energy production and distribution sector (14.9 million tonnes less). SOx reductions have been a result of a combination of policy measures:
- fuel switching in energy-related sectors, away from solid and liquid fuels with high sulphur content to low-sulphur fuels such as natural gas;
- applying flue-gas desulphurisation (FGD) techniques in industrial facilities;
- EU directives relating to the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels.
Over the last 25 years, EU-wide emissions of NOx more than halved from 17.5 to 7.8 million tonnes (see Figure 3). The largest reduction took place in road transport (4.4 million tonnes less) which is the main contributing sector to total NOx emissions. Emission reductions from the road transport sector are primarily a result of fitting catalysts to vehicles. The legislative standards known as 'Euro' standards have driven this move. NOx emissions in the energy production and distribution sector decreased by 2.7 million tonnes thanks to the introduction of specific abatement technologies (e.g. low-NOx burners, flue-gas abatement techniques), and switching fuel from solid to gaseous.
Emissions of NH3 almost entirely derive from agriculture (see Figure 4). Compared to other pollutants, reductions in NH3 emissions were moderate. In EU-28 over the past 25 years the emissions of NH3 decreased only by roughly one fourth from 5.1 to 3.9 million tonnes. Main reductions were achieved through better manure management. Nowadays, ammonia is likely to be the most important acidifying gas emitted in Europe.
Between 1990 and 2014, EU-wide emissions of NMVOC have been reduced by roughly 60% from 17 to 6.7 million tonnes (see Figure 5). Major reduction took place in the road transport sector (5.2 million tonnes less) and in industrial processes and product use (2.9 million tonnes less).
EU-wide emissions of PM2.5 dropped by roughly one third over the past 25 years (see Figure 6). Most significant reductions took place in the energy production and distribution sector as well as in road transport. There have been only marginal reductions in the commercial, institutional and household sector which nowadays contributes to more than half of the total PM2.5 emissions in EU-28 .
Data sources and availability
Data in this article are based on the data reported in national emission inventories for air pollutants under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and the EU National Emission Ceilings Directive (NEC). The principles and methodology to estimate air pollutant inventories are laid down in the EMEP/EEA air pollutant emission inventory guidebook.
Within the EU inventory system, the European Environment Agency and its European Topic Centre on Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation are responsible for the annual compilation of the EU inventory. Air pollutant emission inventories record the emissions of a wide range of substances from sources classified according to the Nomenclature for Reporting (NFR).
Air pollution has been one of Europe's main environmental policy concerns since the late 1970s. The control of emissions from mobile sources, improving fuel quality and promoting and integrating environmental protection requirements into the transport and energy sector are part of these aims.
The Commission has adopted a Clean Air Policy Package in December 2013, consisting of A new Clean Air Programme for Europe with new air quality objectives for the period up to 2030, a revised National Emission Ceilings Directive with stricter national emission ceilings for the six main pollutants, and a proposal for a new Directive to reduce pollution from medium-sized combustion installations. Internationally, the emissions of acidifying substances that result in acid rain are to a large extent regulated by the Gothenburg Protocol under the UNECE Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution (CLRTAP), signed in 1979.
- Air pollution by industries and households
- Climate change - driving forces
- Greenhouse gas emission statistics
- Sustainable development - climate change and energy
Further Eurostat information
- Energy, transport and environment indicators Pocketbook 2016 edition
Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)
- Framework Directive 96/62/EC of 27 September 1996 on ambient air quality assessment and management
- Directive 1999/30/EC of 22 April 1999 relating to limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead in ambient air of 27 September 1996 on ambient air quality assessment and management
- Directive 2001/81/EC of 23 October 2001 on national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants (NEC Directive)
- Directive 2002/3/EC of 12 February 2002 relating to ozone in ambient air
- Decision 2004/224/EC of 20 February 2004 laying down arrangements for the submission of information on plans or programmes required under Council Directive 96/62/EC
- Directive 2004/42/EC of 21 April 2004 on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain paints and varnishes and vehicle refinishing products and amending Directive 1999/13/EC
- Directive 2008/50/EC of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe
- EU legislation on air quality and emissions
- European Commission - Environment - Air
- European Environment Agency - Air pollution
- National emission ceilings under Directive 2001/81/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on National Emission Ceilings for certain pollutants (NEC Directive)
- World Health Organization - Air pollution