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Ammonia emissions ‘the biggest challenge’ in Europe says Agency

The new European Environment Agency (EEA) analysis of air pollution data across the EU has found that, as most major pollutants continue to decline, reducing ammonia emissions is now the greatest challenge. 

The report assesses member states’ performance against the emission reduction commitments for 2020-2029 as well as their progress towards achieving the more ambitious reduction targets that will apply from 2030 onward.

Agriculture was responsible for 93% of ammonia (NH3) emissions

In the former category, it was found that 13 EU countries are failing to meet their emission reduction commitments in at least one of the five main air pollutants (Ammonia, Non-methane volatile organic compounds, NOx, PM2.5 and SO2) and 13 members are on course (Croatia had not submitted data). The worst performing nation was found to be Lithuania who are behind target in three of the pollutants.

In terms of the tougher 2030 targets, only Belgium and Finland are on course in all five, while an honourable mention should go to Estonia who are on course in four out of five. 

The report observes: ‘Achieving further reductions for 2030 and beyond will be a significant challenge for nearly all EU countries for nearly all pollutants, and the reduction rate for some pollutant emissions is now levelling off. One exception is sulphur dioxide, where many countries are already compliant with the 2030 reduction commitment.’

The key message from the report concerns ammonia, which makes up over half of the missed targets in the 2021-2029 emission reduction commitments. Only five of the 26 countries who had reported are on course to meet the 2030 target.

The agriculture sector – where it is released into the atmosphere by the spreading of manures, slurries and fertilisers – is the main source of ammonia emissions by a huge distance, being responsible for 93% of the total. The next greatest source is road transport which contributed 1.7%.

Since 2005, ammonia emissions have only slightly decreased in many member states and in some cases have increased. 

Ammonia only stays in the atmosphere for a few hours once emitted but when it mixes with other gases in the atmosphere, such as NOx and SO2, it can form particulate matter which can exist for several days and be transported large distances.

The EEA also reported the decline in emissions between 2005 and 2021:

PM2.5  -28%
PM10 -27%.
SO2 -80%.
NOx -47% 
black carbon -40%
CO -37% 
NMVOCs -29%
NH3 emissions reduced the least – by only 13% over this period.

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