CEE air pollution problems to shift from SO2 to NOx

Air pollution problems in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries are likely to show a clear shift from SO2 to NOx over the next ten years, according to a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Several factors will lead almost inevitably to a strong decline in SO2 emissions, yet some important conditions will hold back an equivalent reduction NOx emissions, says the report: “Prospects and scenarios No 1. Environment and European enlargement: Air emissions“.
At the beginning of the reform process, between 1990 and 1994, energy consumption in the CEE region decreased be more than one-third, accompanied by a 30% decrease in the consumption of electricity. However, this decrease was caused more by the economic crisis than by energy efficiency measures, says the EEA. In fact energy and electricity intensities increased slightly, as GDP fell faster than energy consumption.

The latest available figures show that this trend is likely to be reversed.
The EEA study constructs a range of scenarios on the evolution of the energy systems in CEE countries, based on a range of assumptions about the pace of convergence towards the structures characteristic of EU countries. All of the scenarios show a decline in energy demand in the CEE region, ranging from -6% to -30% by 2010, if energy intensities were the same as in EU countries.

Economic convergence is expected to reduce the energy intensities of CEE industries (theoretically with a potential energy demand reduction of 66% compared with 1990). But at the same time, the increased wealth of private consumers that would accompany economic development is likely to raise the energy and transportation demands of most households on a par with current EU levels. This could result in a 220% increase in gasoline consumption across the CEE region, says the report.

These opposing trends in energy demand would account for the shift in emissions of different air pollutants. Maintaining current emission-related legislation in the CEE countries would, in combination with the restructuring of the energy system implied by the convergence process, decrease SO2 emissions by around 70%. But the increase in private energy demands would mainly affect NOx emissions and limit the total potential for NOx reductions to 10-15%. But if emissions legislation were harmonised with EU standards, this would have little effect on SO2 emissions (producing only an additonal 2% reduction) while NOx emissions would have to be cut by an additional 30-40%.

The EEA says that bringing CEE emissions limits in line with EU levels would have knock on benefits for neighbouring EU countries. Compared with the existing legislation scenario, it would protect almost 2% more ecosystems in Austria, Germany, Finland and Sweden, and could cut the cost of achieving the EU Acidification strategy targets by nearly 20%.

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