Skip to main content
State of the environment

Emissions of harmful air pollutants are decreasing

Emissions of harmful substances into the air are decreasing in Finland and Europe, which also leads to reduced atmospheric depositions and concentrations of the substances in the environment.
Smoke and water vapor come out of the chimneys.
© Pexels

Air pollution emissions that are harmful for human health and the environment have been decreasing in Finland since the 1980s. This is partly due to technological progress, but mainly to changes in the way society and production have been organised and structured. Emission trends are also influenced by international agreements and the legislation in the European Union and in Finland.

Emission trends vary by pollutant

The biggest reductions have been in emissions of sulfur oxides from the industrial and energy sectors, and in heavy metals emissions from the industrial sector. The main reductions from transport have been in evaporative emissions, i.e. hydrocarbons that evaporate from vehicle fuel systems. Lead emissions from transport ceased in 1994 when the use of lead in fuels was banned. Emissions of ammonia and some persistent organic pollutants have shown the weakest development.

The environmental impact of emissions has abated

The reduction in emissions has reduced the atmospheric depositions and concentrations of harmful substances in the environment. Critical loads in nature are rarely exceeded. The risk of ecosystems becoming acidified or eutrophic due to atmospheric deposition has been reduced - as has the risk of biodiversity loss from air pollution.

Emission limits continue to tighten

The EU's National Emission reduction Commitments Directive sets targets for emission reductions for certain substances by 2029 and for further reductions thereafter. The targets are set separately for each member state.

Pollution Obligations for
Obligations from
2030 onwards
sulfur oxide (SO2)  –30% –34%
nitrogen oxides (NOx)  –35% –47%
Non-Methane Volatile Organic Compounds (NMVOC)  –35% –48%
ammonia (NH3)  –20% –20%
fine particles (PM2,5)  –30% –34%

Obligations set by the European Union for Finland's emission reductions. Emissions in 2005 are used as the starting point.

Implementing and enhancing emission reductions

Finland's National Air Pollution Control Programme determines the means by which the emission reduction targets will be achieved. However, achieving the targets is not enough to prevent environmental damage and health issues arising from air pollution. The programme therefore proposes additional measures to reduce emissions particularly from transport and the small-scale combustion of wood in urban areas.

Air pollutant emissions in Finland

Acidifying compounds

Acidifying atmospheric deposition is caused by emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides and ammonia.

  • Current emission sources of sulfur oxides (SOX) include the combustion of coal, oil, and other sulfur-containing fuels as well as the production of metal. Sulfur emissions have been decreasing in Finland since the early 1980s. Improvements in flue gas cleaning and the introduction of low-sulfur fuels have contributed to this trend. Emissions are indicated as sulfur dioxide (SO2).
  • Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX) come from combustion at high temperatures. Emissions are produced by sources such as power plants and transport. Nitrogen emissions in Finland have been decreasing since the early 1980s. The positive trend is mainly due to improvements in combustion technology and other technical developments. Atmospheric deposition from nitrogen emissions also contributes to eutrophication. In addition, nitrogen oxides contribute to the formation of ozone. Emissions are indicated as nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
  • The majority of ammonia (NH3) emissions come from the livestock industry.

Graph abbreviations: nitrogen oxides (NOX), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), sulfur oxides (SOX), ammonia (NH3), carbon monoxide (CO)


In Finland particulate emissions are generated mainly from fuel combustion and transport, and some emissions also from industrial processes and agriculture. The most significant sources include small-scale combustion, and wear and tear on the road surfaces, tyres and brakes. Technological progress has reduced emissions from the energy production and the industrial sectors. The finest particles, less than 2.5 µm in diameter, are the most harmful. They are emitted into the air in built-up areas, especially from domestic wood burning and street dust. A large proportion of fine particles in the air is dispersed to Finland from elsewhere in Europe, sometimes even further afield.

Graph abbreviations: PM 2.5 ja PM10 are particles smaller than 2.5 and 10 µm. TSP contains particles of all sizes and BC is black carbon.

Ozone-forming compounds

Ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but certain compounds, primarily nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, form it in the presence of sunlight. The compounds responsible for ozone formation can travel long distances in the air, so ozone can be generated far from emission sources. Due to atmospheric chemistry reasons, ozone is more commonly formed on the outskirts of urban areas rather than inner cities. Ozone is harmful to health and hinders plant growth.

Heavy metals

Heavy metal emissions in Finland are currently mainly generated in energy production. Industrial emissions of heavy metals have decreased as technology has improved. The use of lead in transport fuels was banned in 1994. The main source of copper is the wear on tyres and brakes. Heavy metals are harmful to human health and the environment. They are chemical elements and therefore do not break down in nature or in the body. They occur naturally in the bedrock, but the heavy metals released into the air enter the cycle of living nature.

Graph abbreviations: lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), arsenic (As), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), zinc (Zn).

Persistent organic compounds

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are organic compounds that are toxic and accumulate in organisms, and they can be transported long distances in the atmosphere. The toxicity of these compounds varies, which is why the harmfulness of emissions cannot be directly inferred from emission quantities. Among the most toxic POPs are dioxins and furans.

Many POPs were used in the industry, as flame retardants, or pesticides in the past. Nowadays, their use is largely prohibited. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formedin Finland by small-scale wood combustion. Dioxins and furans (PCDD/Fs) are primarily generated in power plants and coke production. Industrial production is the main source of hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Emissions of PCDD/F and PCBs have remained within the required limits, i.e. below 1990 emission levels. Achieving target levels for HCB and PAH-4 emissions is also expected in the near future.

Graph abbreviations: dioxins and furans (PCDD/F), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), hexachlorobenzene (HCB), polychlorinated biphenyls(PCB).


Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)
Discover more
In the PRTR emission data service, information concerning Finland is provided regarding emissions to air and water from industrial facilities and agricultural enterprises, as well as data on waste transfers.