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).
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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.
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.
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).
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.
Read more about the JRC's air and climate research