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National emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants

The Union has set national emission ceilings for acidifiying and eutrophying pollutants and for ozone precursors in order to provide fuller protection for the environment and human health against their harmful effects.


Directive 2001/81/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2001 on national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants [See amending act(s)].


This Directive has been adopted in line with the 1997 communication concerning the strategy to combat acidification, which sought to establish, for the first time, national emission ceilings for certain pollutants.


This Directive covers emissions in the territory of the Member States and their exclusive economic zones from four pollutants which arise as a result of human activities:

  • emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2),
  • emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx),
  • emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC), and
  • emissions of ammonia (NH3).

These pollutants are responsible for the phenomena of acidification, eutrophication and tropospheric ozone formation (also called “bad ozone”, present at low altitude, as opposed to stratospheric ozone), irrespective of the sources of pollution.

National emission ceilings

This Directive provides for the introduction of national emission ceilings by the end of 2010 at the latest. These ceilings are laid down in Annex I to the Directive.

Interim environmental objectives

The purpose of the emission ceilings is broadly to meet the following interim environmental objectives:

  • the areas with critical loads of acid depositions will be reduced by at least 50% compared with 1990;
  • ground-level ozone loads above the critical level for human health will be reduced by two-thirds compared with the 1990 situation. An absolute limit is also set. The guide value set by the World Health Organisation may not be exceeded on more than 20 days a year;
  • ground-level ozone loads above the critical level for crops and semi-natural vegetation will be reduced by one-third compared with 1990. An absolute limit is also set.

National programmes

Member States are required to draw up programmes, by 1 October 2002, for the progressive reduction of their annual national emissions. The programmes must be updated and revised as necessary in 2006. They must be made available to the public and to appropriate organisations and submitted to the Commission.

Emission inventories

Moreover, Member States must prepare and annually update national emission inventories and emission projections for SO2, NOx, VOC and NH3. These inventories and projections must be reported to the Commission and the European Environment Agency each year by 31 December at the latest.


The Commission must report (in 2004, 2008 and 2012) to the European Parliament and the Council on progress on the implementation of the ceilings and towards attaining the interim environmental objectives and the long-term objectives set by the Directive. These reports must contain an economic assessment of the implementation of the national emission ceilings, including cost-effectiveness, costs and benefits, impact on competitiveness and socio-economic impact in each Member State.

The Commission will report to the Council and the European Parliament on the extent to which emissions from international maritime traffic and aircraft contribute to acidification, eutrophication and the formation of ground-level ozone within the Community. It will also specify the action which could be taken to reduce emissions from these sectors.

Cooperation with third countries

Member States and the Commission shall cooperate with third countries and the international organisations concerned with the aim of exchanging information and making progress in research aiming to reduce emissions of SO2, NOx, VOC and NH3.


ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal

Directive 2001/81/EC



Official Journal 309 of 27.11.2001

Amending act(s)Entry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal

Regulation (EC) No 219/2009



OJ L 87 of 31.3.2009


Council Decision 2003/507/EC of 13 June 2003 on the accession of the European Community to the Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-Level Ozone.
This Protocol seeks to cut emissions of sulphur, NOx, NH3 and VOC caused by human activity and capable of damaging human health and the environment through processes of acidification, eutrophication and tropospheric ozone formation resulting from long-range transboundary transport.

Last updated: 03.09.2010
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