On 27 November 2001, with their publication in the Official Journal of the European Communities, the following EC directives came into force:

• the directive on the Limitation of Emissions of Certain Pollutants into the Air from Large Combustion Plants; and

• the directive on National Emission Ceilings for Certain Atmospheric Pollutants.

Both directives will play a key role in the EC’s efforts to reduce air pollution – in particular sulphur dioxide (SO2), a key contributor to acid rain, and nitrogen oxide (NOx), one of the six greenhouse gases.

Large combustion plants

The Large Combustion Plant directive amends directive 88/609/EEC, which regulated the emissions of large combustion plants (LCPs). These are estimated to contribute approximately 63 per cent of total SO2 and 21 per cent of total NOx emissions in the EU. Large in this context means that the rated thermal input is equal to or greater than 50 MWt, while a combustion plant is defined as a stationary installation in which fuels are oxidised for the purpose of the “production of energy”, ie it essentially means power stations. Among plants not covered by the directive are those powered by diesel, petrol and gas engines, as well as gas turbines used on offshore platforms and installations where the combustion products are used directly in manufacturing processes.

Adopted on 24 November 1988, the original directive aimed to gradually reduce annual emissions of SO2 and NOx from existing plants and to lay down emission limit values for SO2, NOx and dust in the case of new plants.

The new directive was conceived on 8 July 1998 when the European Commission submitted an initial proposal to increase the scope and severity of emission limits. Momentum for the proposal was later gained when the Gothenburg Protocol, dealing with long range trans-boundary air pollution, was signed in 1999.

The initial proposal included recommendations for the:

• updating of the emission limit values applicable to LCPs licensed after 27 November 2002, these values being differentiated on the basis of the size of the installation and type of fuel used;

• extension of the scope of the original directive to include gas turbines;

• updating of the scope of fuels covered, including clarifying the relationship of the

new directive with other directives that deal with waste incineration and addressing the use of biomass as a source of energy;

• promotion and development of combined heat and power generation; and

• reinforcement of provisions concerning the monitoring of emissions (including those from existing installations) and compliance with emission limit values.

“Existing” plants

Initially, it was proposed not to include updating emission limits for plants licensed before 1 July 1987. However, on 14 April 1999, at the proposal’s first reading, the European Parliament adopted 15 amendments. In particular, these were aimed at including pre-1987 plants within the scope of the directive, since this category of plants emits substantial quantities of SO2.

Following these amendments, a report was commissioned by the European Commission to investigate the level of emission reductions that would result from the inclusion of plants pre-dating 1987. This found that, although the original directive had imposed national ceilings on total emissions from this type of plant, existing plants were expected to continue to be a considerable source of SO2 and NOx emissions. Hence, the report concluded that without the provisions of the proposed directive, existing plants were likely to be responsible for about 44 per cent of total emissions of SO2 and 12 per cent of NOx emissions until at least 2010.

Reduced emission limits

Following its fight to include existing plants, the European Parliament then fought hard to increase the effectiveness of the new directive by reducing the proposed emission limits. As a result, the European Parliament and the Commission were unable to agree on the final text following a second reading of the proposed directive, on 14 March 2001. Thus, a process of conciliation became necessary – the main issue being the question of whether further reductions of NOx from the use of solid fuels (in particular coal) should be included.

Finally, an agreement was reached, whereby the new directive reduces the NOx limit values for large solid fuel plants from 650mg/Nm3 to 200mg/Nm3. This limit applies for both new and existing plants from 2016 onwards and will be a crucial benchmark in the forthcoming negotiations with Eastern European candidate countries hoping to enter the EU.

However, by way of concession, existing plants may be exempt from obligations concerning new emissions standards if they undertake, via a written declaration to the relevant body before 30 June 2004, not to operate the plant for more than 20 000 operational hours between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2015.

Further, plants with a rated thermal output of 400MW, that do not operate more than either 2 000 hours a year until 31 December 2015, or 500 hours a year from 1 January 2016, will be subject to the more generous limit value for SO2 emissions of 800 mg/Nm3.


By 31 December 2004, the European Commission must submit a report, which will include details of:

• whether further measures are necessary;

• cost effectiveness and advantages of further emission reductions;

• the effects of the emission limits set and the competitiveness of the energy market; and

• national emission reduction plans.

National emissions ceilings

The aim of the directive on national emissions ceilings is to reduce the health risk associated with air pollutants by establishing national emissions ceilings (NECs). Hence, emission limits are set for SO2, NOx, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia (NH3) whereby, by 2010, Member States shall not exceed the emission levels for these pollutants as detailed in the table above.

Further, under this directive, the European Commission must report to the European Parliament and the European Council in 2004 and 2008 on progress made in the implementation of these target figures and on the extent to which interim environmental objectives (ie reduction of acidification and ground level ozone exposure) and longer term objectives (ie not exceeding critical emission levels and achieving WHO air quality guidelines) are likely to be met by 2010 and 2020 respectively. Where appropriate, these reports should be accompanied by proposals for modification of the national emissions ceilings and/or the interim environmental objectives.

Becoming law

Both directives are now European law and each member state must incorporate them into its own national law.

What is important to consider is that these new directives are yet another step at tackling emissions on an international scale and, therefore, are a further sign of how seriously governments are taking air quality issues and not only for greenhouse gases (as classified under the Kyoto Protocol).

National emissions ceilings for SO2, NOx, VOCs and NH3 to be attained by 2010