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National Emission Ceilings for Certain Atmospheric Pollutants

Directive 2001/81/EC complements the measures required under Directive 2008/ 50/EC by setting targets for the total emissions of the covered pollutants for each Member State. The National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive aims, inter alia, to limit emissions of acidifying and eutrophying pollutants and ozone precursors^ in order to improve the protection in the EU of the environment and human health. It is made clear in the preamble that the WHO guideline values for the protection of human health and vegetation from photochemical pollution are substantially exceeded in all Member States. Since it was not seen as technically feasible to meet the long-term objectives of eliminating the adverse effects of acidification and reducing exposure to ground-level ozone to the levels established by the WHO, the EU legislator deemed it necessary to provide for interim environmental objectives, on which the necessary measures to reduce such pollution are to be basedd6 For this reason the Directive has as an aim to move towards the long-term objectives of not exceeding critical levels and loads and of effective protection of all people against recognised health risks from air pollution by establishing national emission ceilings. The years 2010 and 2020 are to be used as benchmarks. (Art 1.)

The Directive covers emissions in the territory of the Member States and their exclusive economic zones from all sources of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC), and ammonia (NH3), which arise as a result of human activities. Emissions from international maritime traffic as well as aircraft emissions beyond the landing and take-off cycle are exempted from its application. (Art 2.)

By the year 2010 at the latest, Member States were to limit their annual national emissions of the above-mentioned pollutants to amounts not greater than the emission ceilings laid down in Annex I. The purpose of the national emission ceilings are to ‘meet broadly’ a number of interim environmental objectives set for the EU as a whole. These include, with regard to acidification, that the areas where critical loads are exceeded shall be reduced by at least 50 per cent compared with the 1990 situation, and, with respect to ground-level ozone exposure, that the ground-level ozone load above the critical level for human health shall be reduced by two-thirds compared with the 1990 situation. (Arts 4 and 5.)

The Court of Justice has found the provisions on national emission ceilings to be ‘purely programmatic in nature’, for which reason they cannot be relied upon by individuals directly before the national courts—that is, they lack direct effect.[1] [2] So- called ‘indicative emission ceilings’ for the EU as a whole are laid down in Annex II. These are lower than the combined national ceilings of all the Member States.

No later than October 2002 the Member States were to draw up programmes for the progressive reduction of national emissions, with the aim of complying at least with the national emission ceilings by 2010 at the latest. The requirements to draw up national programmes for the progressive reduction of national emissions and to make those programmes available to the public have been found by the Court of Justice to have direct effect^8 However, the Court has also found the Directive to be ‘based on a purely programmatic approach under which the Member States enjoy wide flexibility as regards the choice of the policies and measures to be adopted or envisaged’. It does not create an obligation to include the national emission ceilings in environmental permits for the construction and operation of industrial installations.19

The directive also contains requirements concerning emission inventories, projections, and reporting.

  • [1] Joined Cases C-165/09 to C-167/09 StichtingNatuurenMilieu and OthersECLI:EU:C:2011:348,paras 97—98.
  • [2] Ibid, paras 99—100.
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