🏭 EU sees decline in pollutant emissions amid economic growth

🏭 EU sees decline in pollutant emissions amid economic growth

Total emissions in EU Member States dropped in 2021, continuing the decline since 2005. During the same period, GDP grew by 47 percent.


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  • Total emissions in EU Member States dropped in 2021, continuing the decline since 2005.
  • Significant drops in emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and black carbon.
  • GDP grew by 47 percent from 2005 to 2021, showcasing a decoupling from emissions.

Overview of emissions drop

The European Union witnessed a decrease in pollutant emissions last year. This continuation in the reduction of emissions has been observed consistently since 2005.

Between 2005 and 2021:

  • Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions fell by 28 percent.
  • Coarse particulate matter (PM10) emissions dropped by 27 percent.
  • A sharp decrease in sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions was seen, with an 80 percent reduction.
  • Emissions of nitrogen oxides reduced by 47 percent, black carbon by 40 percent, carbon monoxide (CO) by 37 percent, and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) by 29 percent.
  • Ammonia (NH3) emissions experienced a lesser reduction of 13 percent over this period.
  • There were also considerable reductions in emissions of nickel (63 percent) and arsenic (60 percent).
  • Mercury, lead, and cadmium emissions dropped by 47 percent, 42 percent, and 37 percent, respectively.
  • Emissions of benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) had a minor decrease, falling by only 16 percent.

Economic growth and its relation to emissions

Between 2005 and 2021, the EU saw a decoupling from economic activity. This phenomenon occurs when environmental impacts, like pollutant emissions, stabilize or decrease while the economy grows.

In this period, the GDP of EU Member States surged by 47 percent. This is a positive sign, indicating that for each unit of GDP produced annually, main air pollutant emissions have been reducing.

This decoupling of emissions from economic growth can be attributed to various factors. These include increased regulations, policy implementations, shifts in fuel use, technological advancements, and improvements in energy and process efficiencies.

Case study: Sweden

In a three-part series, Christian Sandström and Jonas Grafström looked at how Sweden gets more from less.

📉 Sweden gets more from less
PART 1: Lower carbon dioxide emissions and less pollution despite more inhabitants and economic growth. Sweden gets more from less, writes Jonas Grafström and Christian Sandström.
🏭 24 of 26 air pollutants have decreased in Sweden
PART 2: Of the 26 air pollutants that the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency measures, 24 have decreased in absolute numbers during the period 1990–2018. At the same time, Sweden’s population increased by roughly 1.6 million and the economy almost doubled.
💡 We get more from less electricity and energy
PART 3: During the same period that Sweden’s population increased by two million and the economy increased by 176 percent, energy use only increased by 25 percent.

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