Emissions of air pollutants on downward trend in Estonia

  • 2022-04-07
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – A survey recently published by the Estonian Environment Agency on Estonia's air pollutant emissions from 1990 to 2020 shows that compared to 1990, emissions of all the pollutants measured had declined by 2020.

Estonia has also met the emission reduction targets set by the European Commission for 2020-2029, spokespeople for the Environment Agency announced on Thursday.

The publication provides information on the quantities of pollutants emitted into the air due to human activity, such as volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide, ammonia, fine particles, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, nitric oxide and so on.

Over the period examined, for example, sulphur dioxide emissions had fallen by around 96 percent, largely due to the reduction in the volume of energy production, said Elo Mandel, senior specialist at the Environment Agency's environmental use department and one of the authors of the report.

She added that in the past decade, emissions have also been influenced by the introduction of emission capture equipment and newer technologies by companies.

In 2020, compared to the previous year, sulphur dioxide emissions decreased by 41 percent due to a reduction in electricity production at thermal power plants.

In the opinion of state-owned energy generating company Eesti Energia, in addition to the market price of allowed emission units of greenhouse gases that remained high, the drop in production in 2020 was also due to lower energy demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which was leveraged by the relatively warm winter and the abundance of hydropower in the Nordic countries. Sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants increased somewhat in 2021 compared to 2020, which is connected with the situation on the electricity market in the past autumn/winter.

Emissions of nitrogen oxides meanwhile fell by nearly 68 percent compared with 1990. This is mainly due to changes in energy production and the transport sector between 1990 and 1993. In the transport sector, emissions in recent years have been affected by increasingly stringent emission standards for new vehicles in the road transport sector. This means that new technologies have gradually been introduced and the number and use of older vehicles is decreasing year by year.

The reduction in the number of livestock and the use of fertilizers has also reduced ammonia emissions by 53 percent, but maintaining this target remains a challenge and depends on the ability to adopt less polluting technologies as agricultural production, including livestock numbers and the use of fertilizers, increases.

"Emissions have decreased significantly over the past couple of decades as awareness and responsibility for the use of the environment have increased year by year. We see this both at the level of companies and individuals, where old polluting technologies are gradually being replaced by new greener ones," said Mandel.

Electricity production in Estonia has been declining in the past couple of years, which likewise has had a significant impact on emissions. The COVID-19 pandemic, which affected aviation, also played a role.

"However, the impact of the pandemic can be seen more in individual areas of activity, and the emissions of Estonia as a whole did not change drastically," Mandel said.

The emissions data are derived from yearly reports submitted by the companies that hold  environmental permits. In addition to the data provided by the companies, emissions from small non-reporting stationary emission sources or from specific sources covering a larger area, such as agriculture, mobile sources of emissions and households, are assessed.

Estonia has met the emission reduction targets set by the European Commission for 2020-2029 and is on track to meet the 2030 targets for most pollutants. Thus, the reduction measures implemented so far have been effective, the Environment Agency said.