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Europe, and especially the European Union (EU), has many governmental policy measures aimed at decreasing unwanted reactive nitrogen (Nr) emissions from combustion, agriculture and urban wastes. Many of these policy measures have an ‘effects-based approach’, and focus on single Nr compounds, single sectors and either on air or waters.
This chapter addresses the origin, objectives and targets of EU policy measures related to Nr emissions, considers which instruments are being used to implement the policies and briefly discusses the effects of the policy measures.
The chapter starts with a brief description of the basic elements of governmental policy measures.
A review of the main international conventions and EU policies related to emissions of Nr to air and water is then provided.
Finally the chapter provides a semi-quantitative assessment of the effectiveness and efficiency of European policy measures.
Key findings/state of knowledge
International conventions and other treaties have played a key role in raising awareness and establishing policy measures for Nr emissions abatement in EU through so-called Directives and Regulations.
There are many different EU Directives, often addressing individual Nr compounds from individual sectors (e.g. NOx emissions from combustion; NH3 emissions from agriculture, pollution of groundwater and surface water by nitrates from agriculture, discharge of total nitrogen from urban sewage to surface waters).
A large part of agricultural soils in Europe are exposed to high N inputs because of animal manure and chemical fertiliser use. Large parts of the European natural soils are exposed to high atmospheric N deposition.
High N inputs threaten soil quality, which may negatively affect food and biomass production and biodiversity and enhance emissions of harmful N compounds from soils to water and the atmosphere.
An overview of the major soil functions and soil threats are presented, including a description of the objectives of the European Soil Strategy.
The major N threats on soil quality for both agricultural and natural soils are related to changes in soil organic content and quality, soil acidification, and loss of soil diversity. These threats are described using literature.
Key findings/state of knowledge
Generally, N has a positive effect on soil quality of agricultural soils, because it enhances soil fertility and conditions for crop growth. However, it generally has a negative effect on soil quality of natural soils, because it results in changes in plant diversity.
Soil acts as a filter and buffer for N, and protects water and atmosphere against N pollution. However, the filter and buffer capacity of soils is frequently exceeded by excess of N in both agricultural and natural soils, which results in emission of N to the environment.
Single issue policies have been an effective means of reducing reactive nitrogen (Nr) emissions in the EU, but to make further reductions more-integrated approaches are required.
This chapter shows how cost–benefit analysis (CBA) can provide guidance for the setting of new policy priorities for the abatement of the European Nr emissions from an integrated perspective.
Data on costs and benefits of Nr-abatement, including four national and regional case studies, are reviewed and made comparable by expression in euro per kg of added Nr (agriculture) or euro per kg of reduced Nr emission (unit cost approach).
Social cost estimates are based on Willingness to Pay (WTP) for human life or health, for ecosystem services and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction.
The total annual Nr-related damage in EU27 ranges between 70 and 320 billion Euro, equivalent to 150–750 euro/capita, of which about 75% is related to health damage and air pollution. This damage cost constitutes 1%–4% of the average European income.
Inferred social costs of health impacts from NOx are highest (10–30 euro per kg of pollutant-Nr emission). Health costs from secondary ammonium particles (2–20 euro/kg N), from GHG balance effects of N2O (5–15 euro/kg N), from ecosystem impacts via N-runoff (5–20 euro/kg N) and by N-deposition (2–10 euro/kg N) are intermediate. Costs of health impacts from NO3 in drinking water (0–4 euro/kg N) and by N2O via stratospheric ozone depletion (1–3 euro/kg N) are estimated to be low.
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