EU cites Norway for air poor quality

Emissions of harmful atmospheric particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in Norway exceed limits stipulated by the EU Air Quality Directive.

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The European Free Trade Association (EFTA)’s Surveillance Authority has started formal proceedings against Norway for its infringements of the directive.

On 26 March, EFTA’s Surveillance Authority (ESA) notified Norway that it faces litigation in the EFTA Court unless the country initiates measures to meet requirements of the EU Air Quality Directive within two months.

Three types of pollution

ESA found breaches of maximum emissions for three types of outdoor air pollution – atmospheric particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2), several places in Norway.

Most of the infringements are linked to excess concentrations of NO2 in Norway’s larger cities for certain periods during the past five years.

It is estimated that cars [blue = petrol, red = diesel] cause about 30 percent of Norway’s nitrogen dioxide emissions. Semitrailers, trucks, delivery vans and buses are the source of the other 70 percent on the roads. (Diagram: Norwegian Institute for Air Research, NILU)
It is estimated that cars [blue = petrol, red = diesel] cause about 30 percent of Norway’s nitrogen dioxide emissions. Semitrailers, trucks, delivery vans and buses are the source of the other 70 percent on the roads. (Diagram: Norwegian Institute for Air Research, NILU)

Norway applied for a delay in achieving the limit on nitrogen dioxide until 2015. Bergen has been given a stay until the end of 2014. Oslo has not been granted any reprieve on the two-month limit.

EFTA only issues such extensions if authorities can provide plausible plans for reducing levels sufficiently within a given deadline.

But the excess emissions of nitrogen dioxide in Oslo are likely to continue until 2025, according to calculations by the Institute of Transport Economics (TØI) and the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU).

The main reason is that despite a surge in sales of electric vehicles (EVs), it will take a long time for all the cars in the Norwegian capital to be exchanged for ones with low or zero emissions. So the Oslo region cannot reach the early deadline.  

Doubling of EVs last year

Sales of EVs rocketed in Norway last year. By the end of 2013 there were 18,000 on the roads in Norway, as compared to 8,000 the year before. Far more are being sold in 2014.

Although Norwegians are increasingly trading in their diesel or petrol cars with hybrids or EVs, it will take years for this improvement to have a sufficient impact on air quality.

EVs comprise only 0.7 percent of the automobiles in Norway. By comparison, some 44 percent have diesel engines.

Electrically powered delivery vans are still rare birds on Norwegian roads. Only 511 of these were registered in 2013, as opposed to 159 the year before, according to Statistics Norway.

A sufficient reduction in traffic emissions is possible but it would hinge upon efforts aimed at the major sources of discharges. 

“The use of incentives and environmentally differentiated taxes for commercial and heavy cargo transport could yield noticeable results. The transport industry in Norway has to benefit from becoming more environmentally friendly. It has to be a competitive advantage,” says Leonor Tarrasón, a research director at NILU.

Private autos are not worst

Most of the measures taken to date have focused on automobile traffic – including high carbon taxes on fuel, tolls for driving into the centre of cities and a host of incentives to make EVs more affordable and advantageous. Privately owned cars spewing exhaust from diesel or petrol engines represent over 70 percent of all the traffic in Oslo.

Nevertheless, such traffic causes only about a quarter of the city’s NO2 emissions. This is because lighter vehicles pollute less than big and heavy ones.

Heavy cargo trucks and delivery vans are the major culprits, causing around 70 percent of the NO2 emissions.

Heavy cargo vehicles, vans and buses only do about 30 percent of the driving, by distance covered, and they are greatly outnumbered by cars.

“The reason why they pollute more is that trucks are larger and heavier and they mainly run on diesel,” explains Tarrasón.

“This means that we have a strong potential for a clear reduction in emissions if measures are taken to target these trucks, vans and buses.”

On 1 January, the EU initiated new and more stringent regulations for emissions by heavy vehicles. These standards aim to stimulate a quicker transition to cleaner trucks.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

Translated by: Glenn Ostling

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