Commission proposes national air emission ceilings

The European Commission has adopted a Proposal for a Directive on national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants and a Proposal for a Directive relating to ozone in ambient air.

The national emission ceilings Directive is intended to set individual limits, for the first time, for each Member State’s total emissions in 2010 of the four pollutants responsible for acidification, eutrophication and ozone formation in the lower atmosphere: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOC) and ammonia.

The Air Quality proposal for ozone in ambient air is the third proposal for a daughter Directive under the “Air Quality Framework Directive” adopted in September 1996. The proposal will introduce ambitious target values for ozone, along with requirements to monitor ozone concentrations in ambient air and to report to the public on the findings of that monitoring.

The Commission says its cost-benefit analysis of the proposals shows that the assessable benefits range from EUR 17 billion to EUR 32 billion per year, while costs are estimated at EUR 7.5 billion per year. However, some major benefits, such as those relating to ecosystems, could not be given a monetary value, so the analysis actually underestimates the full benefits of the proposals.

By 2010 the proposals aim to have significantly reduced the proportion of the EU’s population and surface area exposed to exceedances of the critical levels and loads for tropospheric ozone, acidification and eutrophication. Health-related ozone exposure would be down by 35%, from more than 30 days of exceedances of the 120 µg/m³ threshold to 20 days. Vegetation-related ozone exposure would be down by 20%. The ecosystem area not protected from acidification would be cut by 33%. The total load of acidifying deposition in excess of critical loads will have been reduced from about 1500 million acid equivalents to around 600 million acid equivalents, while the ecosystem area still unprotected against eutrophication would be reduced by 14%.

In combination with other legislation already in force or in the pipeline, the emission ceilings Directive should ensure the following situation in 2010 compared with 1990 (the baseline reference year): health-related ozone exposure down by 75%, i.e. from more than 60 days of exceedances above the World Health Organisation’s guideline for health to only 20 days; vegetation-related ozone exposure down by more than 50%; the EU ecosystem area exposed to further acidification shrunk from 37 million hectares to 4.3 million hectares; and the EU ecosystem area exposed to further soil eutrophication reduced to approximately 42 million hectares, around 30% down on the 1990 figure.

Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard described the proposals as ambitious, but “long overdue”.

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