Reductions in emissions of four transboundary air pollutants between 1990 & 2009

Date released: Jan 28 2011

  • Ireland is required to limit annual emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and ammonia (NH3) under the National Emission Ceilings Directive by 2010.
  • 2009 emissions of SO2, VOC and NH3 show Ireland already in compliance with its national emissions ceilings for 2010.
  • However, NOx emissions are more problematic.  Based on 2009 emissions, Ireland’s NOx emissions would be 37% above the 2010 ceiling, with transport continuing to pose a significant challenge.
  • NH3 levels, associated with the agriculture sector, will become problematic if cattle numbers increase to above 2000 population levels.

The EPA today published information on Ireland’s position in 2009 in relation to meeting the 2010 obligations under the National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive). The figures show the trends for four key air pollutants (sulphur dioxide SO2, nitrogen oxides NOx, volatile organic compounds VOC and ammonia NH3) over the period 1990 to 2009. SO2, NOx, VOC and NH3 are responsible for long-range transboundary air pollution such as acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone pollution. The European Community, through the National Emissions Ceiling Directive, limits emissions of these four pollutants by 2010 through Country specific national ceilings.

Commenting on the figures Dr Mary Kelly, Director General, EPA said:

“EPA emission data for 2009 show that Ireland is already in compliance with the 2010 limit for three of the four transboundary air pollutants. This reflects the success of initiatives such as the incentivisation of sulphur-free transport fuels; the use of cleaner natural gas; the ban on bituminous coals and IPPC licensing controls. Despite reducing NOx emissions 31.3%  between 1990 and 2009, these emissions – which are mainly due to increased numbers and use of road vehicles - continue to pose a problem.”

Nitrogen Oxides NOx

The main sources of NOx emissions in Ireland are the transport sector and power generation. Emissions have decreased by 31% between 1990 and 2009 and by 16% in the last year alone. Despite this significant reduction, these figures show that, based on 2009 results, Ireland would exceed its 2010 NOx ceiling of 65 kilotonnes by 24 kilotonnes (37%).

Sulphur Dioxide SO2

Power stations are the principal source of SO2 emissions in Ireland. SO2 emissions have reduced considerably between 1990 and 2009. These latest estimates indicate a decrease of 82% over the period 1990 to 2009.
Ireland’s national emission ceiling for SO2 under the NEC Directive is 42 kilotonnes to be achieved by 2010. Emissions of SO2 in 2009 at 32.7 kilotonnes are already compliant with this 2010 ceiling.

Volatile Organic Compounds VOC

The main sources of VOC emissions in Ireland are solvent use and transport. VOC emissions decreased by 41% between 1990 and 2009.
Ireland’s national emissions ceilings for VOC is 55 kilotonnes to be achieved by 2010. Emissions in 2009 at 52.2 kilotonnes are already compliant with the 2010 ceiling.

Ammonia NH3

The agriculture sector accounts for virtually all ammonia emissions in Ireland. NH3 emissions increased by 2% between 1990 and 2009 in comparison with an allowed maximum increase of 10% under the National Emission Ceiling.
Ireland’s national emission ceiling for NH3  is 116 kilotonnes  to be achieved by 2010. Emissions since 2003 have already been compliant with the 2010 ceiling. With 2009 emissions at 107.8 kilotonnes. Since the NH3 emissions trend is largely determined by the cattle population, increasing cattle numbers to above 2000 population levels would push NH3 levels above the National Emission Ceiling.

The report, Ireland's Transboundary Gas Emissions in 2009, is available on the EPA website.

Notes to Editor

Nitrogen Oxides NO x

In the last decade road transport has seen a decline in emissions of 16% between 1999 and 2009. Emission reductions arising from the use of catalytic converters in cars and heavy-duty vehicles have been almost offset by large increases in vehicle numbers and fuel use during a time of significant economic growth.
The power generation sector is the other main source of NOx emissions. The use of heavy fuel oil and coal has declined since 1990 as natural gas became the preferred fuel during latter years, especially for new entrants in electricity generation. The changed fuel mix and more modern plant has significantly decreased NOx emissions in electricity generation. Furthermore, the introduction of extensive NOx emission control technology in existing plant, supported by the EPA’s Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) licensing regime, has contributed to reductions in NOx emissions from electricity generation.

Sulphur Dioxide SO2

The significant reduction in SO2 since 1990 reflects the success of national and EU policy initiatives such as the incentivisation of sulphur-free transport fuels, the use of cleaner natural gas, the ban on bituminous coal which was initially introduced in Dublin in 1990 and has since been extended to a number of other urban centres and the Solid Fuel Trade Group Voluntary Agreement which is a voluntary agreement to reduce the sulphur content of solid fuels. In addition, the introduction of SO2 abatement options in the relevant power generation plant, supported by the EPA’s Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) licensing regime, has delivered significant reductions in SO2 emissions from power generation.

Volatile Organic Compounds VOC

Technological controls for VOCs in motor vehicles, introduced through improved EU standards, have led to a significant reduction in emissions from road transport. These reductions are largely responsible for the decrease in overall VOC emissions. The contribution from solvent use, the other major source of VOC, has remained relatively constant in absolute terms even though drivers such as population, paint use, dry cleaning and pharmachem industrial activity have increased. This stabilisation reflects reduction in the VOC content of paints and the impact of EPA’s Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) on solvent emitting activities. 

Ammonia NH3

The NH3 emissions trend is largely determined by the cattle population and showed a steady increase up to 1999. There was some decline in the populations of cattle and sheep after 1999, linked to the EU Common Agricultural Policy, as well as a decrease in fertiliser use. This contributed to a downturn in NH3 emissions in the period 2000 to 2009.