Air pollution

Published by the Norwegian Environment Agency Lag rapport Les på norsk

Air quality in Norway has generally improved since the 1990s. However, many people in the larger towns are still affected by local air pollution, and some limit values are still exceeded every winter.

Some improvements, but challenges remain

Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide are the most important components of local air pollution in Norway. Other components such as sulphur dioxide, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and benzene can also contribute to poor local air quality.

2008 was the first year the EU limit value for PM10 was met at all measuring stations in Norway. Since then only a few towns have broken the limit, with the exception of 2013 when a total of four towns were above the limit-value.

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Acidification a continuing challenge

Despite approved emissions reductions targets under several regulations such as the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, acidification will continue to be a problem in large areas of South Norway, particularly in the southern and western parts. Even with a maximum feasible reduction scenario, the problems will persist until 2100 and beyond.

Critical loads are used to define the amount of pollution different ecosystems can absorb without damage to the natural environment. In Norway, freshwater ecosystems are particularly sensitive to acidification. The area where critical loads are exceeded has decreased since the 1980s. In 1980 critical loads were exceeded in 29 percent of the total area. In 2005, the area was reduced to 10 percent. Similar figures for 2011 were 8 per cent. 

Air pollution can cause serious health problems

In Norway, it is mainly people with asthma and respiratory complaints and those suffering from cardiovascular disease who experience health problems caused by air pollution. Children and young people, pregnant women and the elderly are also particularly vulnerable groups.

Transboundary pollution from acid rain and ground level ozone from the European continent still cause effects in Norway. One of these effects is the acidification of water courses, which results in damage to fish and other aquatic species. At its worst, a third of Norway was affected by acidification. Acidification has resulted in reduced water quality in lakes and rivers in the southern half of Norway, and especially in the southernmost counties. Over the years many fish stocks have been depleted or wiped out, and other aquatic animals and plants have also been affected.

Road traffic dominant source of pollution

Road traffic is the dominant local source of air pollution in Norway, especially due to the widespread use of studded tires from October to April. A car with studded tyres produces up to 100 times more particulate matter than a car with regular tyres.

Wood-burning stoves also make a contribution to the concentration levels of particulate matter, especially on cold days in the winter months.

Other important sources are industrial emissions and long-range transport of pollution from other European countries. As shown in the graph inputs of sulphur and nitrogen to Norway have declined as emissions in Europe have been reduced.

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National targets introduced

Statutory limit values for particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, benzene, carbon monoxide and lead based on EUs directives on ambient air quality, are set out in the Norwegian Regulations relating to pollution control.

National targets for air quality have also been introduced for several pollutants. These are based on socio-economic considerations as well as considerations of public health. The national targets for PM10 and NO2, were not attained in 2014.

Measures to reduce emissions from road traffic are important responses and are divided into two categories: those designed to reduce the volume of traffic and those designed to reduce emissions.

Binding international agreements

Most European countries have undertaken to reduce their emissions of acidifying substances through the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. Norway met the 2010 emission ceiling for sulphur dioxide in 2006, while emission ceilings for ammonia and nitrogen oxides were not met.

In the revised Gothenburg Protocol, Norway has undertaken to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide, ammonia and nitrogen, by respectively 10, 8 and 23 per cent by 2020 relative to emissions in 2005. For Norway, the new requirements represent only minor changes. For sulphur dioxide, the target was reached already in 2007, while emissions of ammonia and particles must be reduced.