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Air quality in Europe - 2013 report. Why should we care about air pollution?. Air pollution impacts human health , contributes to climate change and damages ecosystems . Here are some of the pollutants the ‘Air quality in Europe – 2013 report’ investigates and their potential impacts.

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Why should we care about air pollution?

Air pollution impacts human health, contributes to climate change and damages ecosystems. Here are some of the pollutants the ‘Air quality in Europe – 2013 report’ investigates and their potential impacts.


What are the main concerns for Europe’s air in 2013?

Particulate matter (PM) and its threat to human health.

Ozone (O3) due to its health impacts and harm to vegetation.

Eutrophication from high emissions of nitrogen oxides and ammonia. These pollutants can cause the atmospheric deposition of nutrient nitrogen to sensitive ecosystems, such as grasslands and nutrient-poor lakes.


How does air pollution impact human health?

  • New scientific evidence indicates that the threshold at which air pollution can harm human health is much lower than was previously thought. This means that far more people may be being affected by air pollution.

Exposure to harmful levels of air pollution

EU urban population exposed to harmful levels air pollution, according to:

EU limit values

WHO guidelines

Up to a third of Europeans living in cities are exposed to air pollutant levels exceeding EU air quality standards. And around 90 % of Europeans living in cities are exposed to levels of air pollutants deemed damaging health by the World Health Organization’s more stringent guidelines.


What has been the European policy response?

EU legislation limits the emissions of pollutants and sets maximum levels for concentrations of these pollutants in the air.

For pollutant emissions, the 2001 National Emissions Ceiling (NEC) Directive sets ceiling limits for emissions of SO2, NOX NMVOC and NH3. These ceilings should have been met by all EU Member States by 2010.

For pollutant concentrations, two Air Quality Directives (2008/50/EC and 2004/107/EC) set legally binding limits for ground-level concentrations of outdoor air pollutants.


Emissions have been reduced

EU emissions of primary particulate matter (PM) and PM precursor gases:

European countries have made progress in cutting emissions of several air pollutants.


Member States are exceeding emissions targets

2011 NOx emissions compared to NEC emission ceilings:

In 2011, eight EU Member States were still not in compliance with one or more emission ceilings of the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive. These ceilings should have been reached in all Member States by 2010. Data on NEC compliance are available here.


Member States are exceeding concentration targets

In 2011,18 EU Member States exceeded the value threshold for ozone (O3) concentrations on more than 25 days.

During the same year, 22 EU Member States exceeded the EU daily limit value for particulate matter (PM10) concentrations.


PM concentrations threaten health

Share of urban population exposed to dangerous levels of PM10 in Europe:

3 in 10

exceeding the

EU daily limit value


exceeding the

WHO guideline value

Despite the reductions in particulate matter emissions in the period 2002 to 2011, the percentage of Europeans exposed to PM levels above EU limit values remained stable over the past ten years.


Ozone concentrations threaten health & crops

  • Exposure levels of European agricultural areas to ozone (O3) in 2010:

High levels of O3 concentrations harm human health and agricultural output. Losses of crop yields also have consequences for the European economy. EU emissions of the precursor gases that form O3have fallen by up to 32% since 2002, but there has been no discernible reductionin O3concentrations.


Nitrogen concentrations threaten ecosystems

Annual mean concentrations of NO2 in 2011:

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can threaten ecosystems through eutrophication. In 2002-2011, NO2 concentrations have not fallen as fast as overall emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx). This is attributed to the increased share of diesel vehicles in the European car fleet, as the proportion of NO2 in the NOx emissions of a diesel vehicle is far higher than the proportion of NO2 in the NOx emissions of a conventional-petrol vehicle.


Factors contributing to concentration levels

Emission levels are not the only factor that determines concentrations of air pollutants. Factors like weather, chemical transformations in the air, and transport of pollutants from outside Europe all play a role. This means that a reduction in emissions of a pollutant do not always translate to an equivalent reduction in concentrations of that pollutant.


Lower emissions do not always lead to lower concentrations

Percentage decline in carbon monoxide (CO) and PM10 concentrations and emissions between 2002-2011:

CO concentrations are daily 8-hour maxima concentrations.

PM10 emissions are emissions of primary PM10.

Between 2002 and 2011, there was a significant decline in both the emission levels and the concentration levels for some pollutants (e.g. CO). For some others, there was a noticeable decline in emissions, but not in atmospheric concentrations (e.g. PM 10).


How can Europe respond to these challenges?

  • Continued investment in the knowledge base
  • Air monitoring stations across Europe feed the knowledge base on air. A failure to invest in and maintain this infrastructure could significantly limit our understanding of air pollution and its consequences.
  • Further sectoralemission reductions
  • Emissions of air pollutants derive from almost all economic and societal activities. Policies
  • have resulted in decreased emissions of many air pollutants. Nevertheless, road transport, industry, power plants, households and agricultural activities continue to emit significant amounts of air pollution.
  • Capacity building for implementation
  • (add text)
  • Countries to meet emission targets
  • While immediate impacts on human heath and our economy are a main concern, avoiding being locked-in to unsustainable trends in the mid and long-term is also a priority. Continued exceedances of air quality standards raise particular concern in this respect.

European Environment Agency activities

  • Knowledge institution
  • Taking action on air pollution requires timely, reliable information. The European Environment Agency (EEA) plays a central role in gathering, quality checking and making available key data that makes policy development and evaluation possible. Air quality data and information reported by Member States is available via the EEA’s Airbase database.
  • Data analysis for policy development
  • By quantifying both anthropogenic emission sources and air pollutant concentrations, we have a better idea of what activities contribute most to pollution and the impacts of air pollution. This assists policymakers to create better, more effective air pollution policy.
  • Air quality reporting The report ‘Air Quality in Europe - 2013’ and other EEA publications on air pollution assess European air quality by looking at two main data sources: emissions of pollutants into the air, and concentrations and impacts of these pollutants in the air.
  • The ‘Air Quality in Europe – 2013 report’ is available in full here.

Air quality in Europe - 2013 report

  • The ‘Air Quality in Europe – 2013 report’ is available in full here.
  • The EEA’s ‘Signals 2013 – Every breath we take’ publication that explains the current state of air quality in Europe is available here.