Sunlight breaking through clouds in the sky.

Air quality and greenhouse gases

Despite continued efforts to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants, air pollution remains a worldwide concern, including in large areas of Europe. Improving air quality while keeping the climate hospitable is a complex process which requires a thorough understanding of what is causing air pollution and climate change, what can be done to tackle both, and a prioritisation of measures to preserve a life-friendly atmosphere everywhere on Earth.

To improve air quality, the European Union has set specific long-term objectives for 2020 through its Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, which has been reviewed and led to the Clean Air Policy Package. The EU also aims to limit global warming to 2ºC above preindustrial levels. To support the modernisation of EU air pollution and climate change legislations, the JRC is working to harmonise air and climate monitoring and modelling methodologies, to develop coherent greenhouse gas (GHG) and air pollutant emission inventories and projections, and to carry out econometric trend analyses and cost estimates of emission control options. In addition, the JRC performs much of its work in the context of international programmes that operate at the interface of science and policy, e.g the UN Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), and the Intergovernmetal Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Euronews Futuris series: How Do Forests Breathe When Climate Changes?


 

Independent Estimates of Global Emissions and Trends

The JRC supports EU and global air pollutant and GHG emission reduction polices by measuring, assessing, and checking emission data. The JRC maintains the online Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR). This database allows emissions to be determined for all countries of the world in a comparable and consistent manner. Coherent greenhouse gas and air pollutant emission inventories and projections highlight possible synergies between air and climate policies, which will increase their effectiveness.

The JRC contributed to the recent review of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution. The review led to the adoption of a "Clean Air Policy Package". The package comprises a revised strategy, a proposal for a revised National Emission Ceilings directive, a proposal for limiting emissions from medium combustion sources, and a proposal to accept international agreements under the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone.

The JRC also carries out impact assessments of policies designed to help reach the EU objective of limiting global climate change. By running a coupled chemistry-climate model, the JRC helps to identify climate change mitigation strategies that will also reduce air pollution, and policies to improve air quality while minimising climate change. This will allow policy makers to better assess the costs and benefits of ambitious air quality and climate targets.

Through its Greenhouse Gases in Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Uses (AFOLU) information system, the JRC also provides data, models and other tools to promote transparent, complete and comparable greenhouse gas estimates for this sector in Europe. Moreover, the JRC studies the consequences of climate change on air pollution, and their impact on European land ecosystems and soil. 

More information:

ECLAIRE – Effects of Climate Change on Air Pollution Impacts and Response Strategies for European Ecosystems

LIMITS – Low climate IMpact scenarios and the Implications of required Tight emission control Strategies

Measuring emissions from ships

PEGASOS – Pan-European gas-aerosols-climate interaction study

 

Modelling and Observing Policy Impact

Europe cut significantly emissions in recent decades, but air pollution continues to damage human health and ecosystems. Emissions of air pollutants come from many economic and societal activities. Road transport, industry, agriculture and households emit significant amounts of air pollution. The impact of changing source legislation on air quality needs to be understood and monitored. The JRC runs atmospheric research facilities and operates models and tools to analyse the impact of European policies and international protocols.

The JRC analyses the interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere and climate change, by measuring greenhouse gases (GHGs) and reactive gas fluxes and concentrations and aerosol characteristics through continuous measurement programmes at the on-site Atmosphere/Biosphere/Climate Integrated monitoring Station (ABC-IS) and other platforms, including cruise ships in the Mediterranean Sea. Emphasis is put on ozone and black carbon, which are two pollutants that also lead to climate warming, in one of the most polluted areas of Europe, where the implementation of EU Directives are expected to have the greatest impacts. Potential health effects associated with exposures to those pollutants are closely monitored as they are documented in the scientific literature and are reported to the policy makers.

Furthermore, the JRC applies inverse modeling techniques to estimate GHG emissions on the European and global scale, using surface and satellite measurements.

The JRC has leading roles in international scientific cooperative efforts to improve the understanding of the transport of air pollution at the intercontinental and regional scales through the intercomparison of models.

More information:

AQMEII – Air Quality Modelling Evaluation International Initiative

AQUILA – National Air Quality Reference Laboratories

Copernicus - the European Earth Observation Programme

HTAP – Task Force on Hemispheric Transport of Air Pollution

ICOS: Integrated Carbon Observation System

InGOS - Integrated non-CO2 Greenhouse gas Observing System

MACC - Monitoring Atmospheric Composition and Climate

Assessment on Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone

 

Tracking Air Pollution issues back to their source

Abatement of pollution at its source is one of the overarching principles of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution. Reliable and quantitative information on pollution sources is essential for the implementation of the Air Quality Directives (Dir. 2008/50/EC and Dir. 2004/107/EC).

Source Apportionment (SA) is the practice of deriving information about pollution sources and the amount they contribute to ambient air pollution levels. This task can be accomplished using three main approaches: emission inventories, source-oriented models and receptor oriented models.

 

The Source Apportionment group of the JRC promotes the development, testing  and implementation of state-of-the-art methodologies to assess pollution sources. The activities of the group include

  • continuous monitoring and critical review of the methodologies,
  • intercomparison exercises to test model performance and uncertainty,
  • development of  harmonised procedures at the European level to guarantee comparability and quality standards of the output.

 

 

Improving air quality in a cost-effective way

The JRC supports the Commission, Member States and regional/local authorities in the field of air quality management. In particular, the JRC develops and/or applies tools to perform Integrated Assessment Modelling studies at a regional and local level.

Different approaches are available to rapidly explore potential air quality improvements resulting from regional/local emission reduction measures. These are based on the relationships between emissions reductions and concentration changes, and can be used to answer the following questions:

  • What is the potential for local action in my region?
  • What are the priority activity sectors and pollutants on which to take action?
  • What is the optimal area (region, province, country…) on which to apply policy to be efficient?
  • What are the most efficient technologies to be applied?
  • What are the costs and benefits of applying a given set of abatement measures?

These tools are useful to both regional and local authorities to prepare air quality management plans, and to the European Commission for Impact Assessment studies (at regional/local level).

More information:

OPERA LIFE+ project
APPRAISAL FP7 project

 

Common Criteria for Air Quality Assessment

The JRC supports the Commission and EU Member States in the implementation of the current EU legislation on air quality. It works in different ways to harmonise methodologies for monitoring, modelling and assessing air quality, through its own reference laboratory, networks with other scientific organisations and with international standardisation and metrology bodies. It actively participates in two scientific networks: the Air Quality Reference Laboratories (AQUILA) network for issues related to monitoring, and the Forum for Air Quality Modelling in Europe (FAIRMODE) for issues related to modelling.

The Air Quality Framework Directive and its daughter directive require the monitoring of a range of parameters. Examples of certified reference materials provided by the JRC in this field include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and selected heavy metals in a PM10-like dust, trace elements or dioxins in fly ash, and platinum group elements in road dust.

 

The JRC manages the European Reference Laboratory for Air Pollution (ERLAP), and provides training and organises regular inter-laboratory comparisons with reference laboratories from all over Europe, to verify that air quality is measured in a coherent way in different counties and laboratories.

In collaboration with other scientific organisations, the JRC also participates in the EU-funded research project Aerosols, Clouds, and Trace gases Research InfraStructure Network (ACTRIS). The former FP7 project AIRMONTECH (Air Pollution Monitoring Technologies for Urban Areas) led to the creation of a database on air pollution monitoring (http://db-airmontech.jrc.ec.europa.eu/).

The work on air quality is closely linked with efforts to standardise global environmental data for Earth observation and climate change modelling. 

More information:

CEN: the European Committee for Standardisation

EURAMET: European Association of National Metrology Institutes

Copernicus - the European Earth Observation Programme

AIRMONTECH database

Atmospheric dispersion


Read more about the JRC's air and climate research

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JRC Institutes