Ireland below EU 2010 limits for three of four transboundary air pollutants

Date released: Jan 27 2012

Emissions of nitrogen oxide continue to pose a challenge

  • Under the National Emission Ceilings Directive, Ireland was required to limit emissions of four transboundary air pollutants in 2010.
  • Provisional figures from the EPA show emissions of three of these pollutants (sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and ammonia) were below the emission ceilings in 2010.
  • Emissions of the fourth pollutant, nitrogen oxide, were above the 2010 emission ceiling. The transport sector is the main source of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, accounting for 51% of NOx emissions in 2010.


The EPA today published information on Ireland’s position in relation to meeting its 2010 obligations under the National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NEC Directive).  The figures show the trends for four key air pollutants over the period 1990 to 2010.  These pollutants are sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and ammonia (NH3) and they are responsible for long-range transboundary air pollution such as acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone pollution.

The European Community, through the NEC Directive, limits emissions of these four pollutants by 2010 and each year thereafter, through country specific national ceilings. These provisional figures for 2010 were recently reported to the European Commission by the EPA. The figures will be finalised in December 2012 and thereafter, the European Commission will assess Ireland’s compliance under the NEC Directive.

This latest information from the EPA shows levels of sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and ammonia were below the 2010 emission ceilings. Reductions in these three pollutants have been achieved through a diverse range of measures including effective licencing and enforcement by the EPA, stricter regulation of VOC emissions from vehicles and declining animal numbers in the agriculture sector.

There has been a significant reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions over the period 1990 to 2010. However, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions continue to pose a challenge with emission levels 7.6 ktonnes above the 2010 limit. Although reductions in NOx levels from the transport sector have been delivered through technological improvements these have not been as substantial as originally anticipated. Advances in emission controls have been largely off-set by large increases in vehicle numbers and fuel use during a time of significant economic growth over the period 1990 to 2008.

Commenting on the figures Laura Burke, Director General, EPA said:

“The reduction in Ireland’s emissions of these four transboundary air pollutants is welcome. Ireland has achieved significant reductions across each of these pollutants since 1990, delivering environmental and health benefits through reductions in acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone pollution. Emissions of sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and ammonia are below the 2010 emission ceilings. However, in spite of substantial reductions, nitrogen oxide emissions continue to pose the greatest challenge with these latest figures showing that Ireland is exceeding its 2010 limit. Limiting nitrogen oxide emissions, in particular from the transport sector, with cost-efficient and feasible measures in future years will be challenging.”


The agriculture sector accounts for 98 per cent of ammonia (NH3).  NH3 emissions are 9.8 ktonnes below the 2010 ceiling which is a positive outcome in terms of meeting obligations under the NEC Directive. However, limiting and reducing NH3 emissions into the future could be problematic given the strong performance of the agriculture sector in line with the ambitious targets of Food Harvest 2020.


The NEC report is available to download from the EPA website.

Notes to Editor:

Changes to transboundary air pollutant emissions are as follows:

Nitrogen Oxides (NOx):

NOx emissions decreased by 42% between 1990 and 2010. Between 2009 and 2010 there was a 13% reduction, mainly caused by reductions in the key sectors transport and power generation. Despite this reduction, Ireland is currently exceeding its 2010 NOx ceiling of 65 kilotonnes by 7.6 kilotonnes.
The road transport sector represents the largest source of NOx emissions, accounting for 51 % of total NOx emissions in 2010. Stricter EU standards for emissions from cars and heavy duty vehicles have delivered significant reductions in emissions from road transport in combination with the economic downturn in more recent years. However, while the benefits achieved by these more stringent standards achieved substantial decreases in NOx emissions, they did not deliver in full the anticipated emission reductions particularly in relation to heavy duty trucks. This failure and the large increase in traffic volumes and associated fuel use during a time of economic growth largely offset the emissions reductions. In the power generation sector, reductions have occurred as a result of measures such as extensive NOx emission control technology, supported by the EPA’s licensing and enforcement regime, and fuel-switching from oil to gas and renewable energy.

Sulphur Dioxide (SO2):

Between 1990 and 2010, SO2 emissions decreased by 86%. Between 2009 and 2010 the decrease was 21%, mainly caused by reductions in power stations which are the principal source of SO2 emissions in Ireland.

Ireland’s 2010 national emission ceiling for SO2 is 42 kilotonnes. Emissions in 2009 were already below this 2010 ceiling. These data for 2010 show Ireland is 16 ktonnes below the 2010 limit.
The reduction in emissions since 1990 has been achieved as a result of a combination of measures, including switching fuel in energy-related sectors from high to low sulphur fuels such as natural gas, the fitting of SO2 abatement technology in power generation plant, the ban on bituminous coal in urban centres and a voluntary agreement to reduce the sulphur content of solid fuels which was further strengthened and given a statutory footing in 2011.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC):

VOC emissions decreased by 52% between 1990 and 2010. Between 2009 and 2010 the decrease was 6%, mainly caused by reductions in the transport sector. The main sources of VOC emissions in Ireland are solvent use and transport.
Ireland’s 2010 national emission ceiling for VOC is 55 kilotonnes. Emissions in 2007 were already below the 2010 ceiling. These data for 2010 show Ireland to be 10.1 ktonnes below the 2010 limit.
VOC emission levels in the solvent use sector have remained relatively constant since 1990 even though drivers such as population, paint use, dry cleaning and industrial activity have increased. This reflects a reduction in the VOC content of products such as paints and the impact of EPA’s licencing and enforcement regime on relevant activities. VOC emissions from transport have reduced due to improved EU standards in cars and the more widespread use of vehicle exhaust catalytic converters.

Ammonia (NH3):

NH3 is produced following application of, primarily, animal manures and nitrogenous fertilisers to grasslands. NH3 emissions decreased by 0.4% between 1990 and 2010. Between 2009 and 2010 the decrease was 2%, mainly caused by reductions in animal manures as a result of declining animal numbers which is off-set to some extent by an increase in the application of nitrogenous fertiliser.
Ireland’s national emission ceiling for NH3 is 116 kilotonnes to be achieved by 2010. Emissions in 2000 were already below the 2010 ceiling. These data for 2010 show Ireland to be 9.8 ktonnes below the 2010 limit. However, given the strong performance of the agriculture sector in line with the ambitious targets of Food Harvest 2020, limiting NH3 emissions to below the 2010 ceiling in the future could become an issue.