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Emission reduction targets met for sulphur and nitrogen oxides – but not for ammonia

Long-term progress:
Sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions have both declined markedly since the early 1990s. The picture for ammonia emissions is not as positive, but ammonia is a less significant cause of acidification than sulphur and nitrogen oxides.
Short-term progress:
In recent years, sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions have continued to decline irrespective of the effects of climate variations and economic fluctuations. Ammonia emissions have not declined to a significant extent.
Progress in relation to targets:
The targets set for 2010 in the EU's National Emission Ceilings Directive were met for sulphur and nitrogen oxides, but not for ammonia. New targets are being prepared for 2020.

Emissions of acidifying compounds in Finland 1990–2013

Emissions of acidifying compounds
In the index calculated for emissions, the year 1990 = 100. In 1990, ammonia emissions totalled 39,200 tonnes, those of nitrogen oxides 286,000 tonnes and those of sulphur oxides, 260,000 tonnes.
Source: Finnish air pollutant inventory to the CLRTAP. SYKE. 2015.

New emission limits prepared for 2020

Control of sulphur and nitrogen oxides has succeeded well: nitrogen emissions have declined by almost one half and sulphur emissions by more than three quarters since 1990. Measures taken to reduce ammonia emissions have not, however, been as effective – the targets set for Finland in the EU's National Emission Ceilings Directive for 2010 were met for sulphur and nitrogen but not for ammonia. In 2010, Finland's ammonia emissions totalled approximately 38,000 tonnes, while the emission ceiling was set at 31,000 tonnes. The failure to meet this ceiling is attributed to the fact that no feasible technical solutions have been found for reducing emissions. Some 90% of ammonia emissions originate in agriculture, particularly in animal excretions.

The European Commission is currently preparing a proposal for a new Emission Ceilings Directive that defines emission limits for 2020. Reaching future targets looks difficult again with regard to ammonia, with Finland's ammonia emissions estimated to remain at around 35–37,000 tonnes until 2050.

The majority of sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions into the air come from energy production. In Finland, the quantities of such emissions vary annually, depending on the amount of hydropower available and the quantity of heating energy required.

Atmospheric sulphur and nitrogen oxides and ammonia cause acidification in lakes and forests.


  • Finnish air pollutant inventory to the CLRTAP. Finnish Environment Institute. 2015.

Sulphur Directive aims to cut emissions drastically in the Baltic region

Image: Petri Ahlroth

From 1 January 2015, ships navigating the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel must use fuel oil with a maximum sulphur content of 0.1%. At present, the highest permitted sulphur content at the Baltic Sea is 1%. Alternatively, a sulphur dioxide scrubber can be installed in ships to achieve the same end result: a 90% reduction in emissions.

The related regulations are included in the EU's Sulphur Directive, adopted in 2012. In other parts of EU the maximum permitted sulphur content of marine fuel will be cut even more dramatically: from 4.5% to 0.5%, but not until 1 January 2020.

The Sulphur Directive will have a considerable impact on emissions. In the Baltic Sea, sulphur emissions from ships totalled around 130,000 tonnes in 2008. Of this quantity, a 90% decrease corresponds to two years of emissions from all of Finland’s land-based sources.

The Sulphur Directive's burden on the export sector has been a hot topic of public discussion in Finland. On the whole, it is, nevertheless, sensible to cut emissions as, according to a study commissioned by the EU Commission, the health benefits will far exceed the costs of the Directive.

Cruise ship Viking Grace (left), built 2013, meets the requirements of the Sulphur Directive as it uses liquefied natural gas (LNG) with low sulphur emissions. Ships using residual fuel oil (above) need to be installed with sulphur dioxide scrubbers and catalytic converters or alternatively shift to using low sulphur fuel oil.


  • HELCOM. 2013.
  • Cost benefit analysis to support the impact assessment accompanying the revision of Directive 1999/32/EC on the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels. 2009.


Published 2015-11-23 at 10:43, updated 2015-11-23 at 10:43