Europe’s air quality has improved, but more progress is needed to reduce ammonia emissions, 95 % of which are caused by agriculture. To meet the targets set by the new National Emissions Ceilings Directive, the agricultural sector should use proven cost-effective ways of lowering ammonia emissions, especially on big industrial farms.
The fight for cleaner air has been one of EU's main environmental policy concerns since the late 1970s. Over the last three decades these policies have succeeded in lowering emissions of air pollutants and improving air quality across Europe. But emissions from agriculture, accounting for 95 % of all ammonia emissions in the EU, have decreased the least.
When Paris air pollution levels peaked in spring 2014, some 62 % of the fine particles in the air were ammonia-induced.
Despite low public awareness of its effects, there is compelling evidence that ammonia emissions pose a serious health threat. Ammonia contributes to the formation of secondary particulate matter, which can cause or aggravate cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases, heart attacks, arrhythmias and cancer. Particulate matter can also affect the central nervous system and the reproductive system.
When Paris air pollution levels peaked in spring 2014, some 62 % of the fine particles in the air came from ammonia, according to the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Ammonia emissions are also the main reason for the eutrophication of lakes, rivers and oceans.
The agricultural sector will have to make a big effort to reach the ammonia-reduction commitments set out in the new legislation on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants (NEC), which came into force at the end of 2016. Measures to reduce ammonia emissions, including low-tech investments and changes in farming practices, are mostly for large industrial holdings, which account for 80 % of ammonia emissions.
Member States have until 30 June 2018 to transfer these rules on to their statute books. And by 2019, they have to draw up National Air Pollution Control Programmes setting out measures to lower emissions of the five main air pollutants – fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, and ammonia – to reach the targets agreed for 2020 and 2030.
Along with the policy push, emissions from agriculture is a central theme in the Clean Air Forum in Paris on 16-17 November – another sign that it is time for the agricultural sector to join the fight against air pollution in Europe.