Emissions of several air pollutants showed an improvement in the UK between 2010 and 2011, according to European Union data
Emissions levels of several pollutants in the UK were within limits set out in the EU National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive in both 2010 and 2011, data from the European Environment Agency (EEA) has revealed.
According to EEA data released yesterday, the UK is meeting targets set out in the NEC Directive (2001/81/EC) for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and ammonia.
In Europe overall, the number of member states exceeding pollution limits under this Directive decreased from 12 in 2010 to eight in 2011, showing there is still room for improvement in many countries. Member states can be taken to the EU courts for non-compliance.
Germany was the only member state to exceed three of the four emission ceilings (excluding sulphur dioxide) in the NEC Directive in both 2010 and 2011.
The NEC sets upper limits for each member state for the total emissions in a year of the four pollutants. However, it leaves it largely to the member states to decide which measures to take in order to comply.
In 2010, the UK was 5.18% below the ceiling limit for nitrogen oxides, which improved to 11.48% in 2011. There was also an improvement in sulphur dioxide levels, as the UK was 30.44% below the ceiling limits in 2010 and 35.25% below in 2011.
There was also mild improvement in the UKâ€™s NMVOC performance, meanwhile, with levels shown to be 35.71% below the ceilings in 2010 and 37.33% below in 2011.
NMVOCs â€“ which include compounds such as benzene, xylene, propane, butane, ethanol, benzene and formaldehyde â€“ are mainly emitted from transportation, the burning of fossil fuels, industrial processes and solvents. Some of these compounds are toxic to humans, with benzene and 1,3-butadiene having been shown to be carcinogenic when there is sufficient exposure.
However, levels of ammonia in the UK worsened slightly, with EEA data showing the UK to be 3.18% below the EU ceilings in 2010 but 2.31% below the ceiling in 2011.
In contrast to the UK, Luxembourg was the worst performing member state in 2010 and 2011 for nitrogen oxides, with EEA data showing the state to be 62.96% above the NEC Directive limits in 2010 and 63.97% above in 2011.
Austria, France, Germany, Belgium and Ireland were also among the states breaching NEC limits for nitrogen oxides in both 2010 and 2011.
The EEA said that reductions of nitrogen oxides from road traffic â€“ which contributes to around 40% of overall EU nitrogen oxide emissions â€“ over the last two decades have not been as large as originally anticipated.
According to the EEA: â€œThis is partly because transport demand has been higher than expected, and partly because real-world driving conditions have sometimes led to higher emissions than those anticipated with vehicle emission standards.â€
Jacqueline McGlade, EEA executive director, said. â€œAlthough the new data shows some clear improvement between 2010 and 2011, Europe still needs to work hard to reduce air pollution. Emissions from transport are still a major problem, particularly in some cities.â€
As part of the EU review of its air quality policy and legislation during the â€˜Year of Air in 2013â€™ (see airqualitynews.com story), the European Commission is expected to publish a proposal for a revised NEC Directive in the autumn of this year, potentially calling for stricter emission ceilings for 2020 or beyond. According to the EEA, for the first time a ceiling for particulate matter PM2.5 may be introduced.
The EEA data on NEC Directive compliance is available on its website.