EU agrees new “more ambitious” air quality targets

The European Union has announced that it has reached an international agreement to update the Gothenburg Protocol, setting “more ambitious targets” to reduce trans-boundary air pollution.

In a statement issued yesterday (8 May 2012), the European Commission said that the revised objectives of the Ggothenburg Protocol will see a reduction in EU emissions of around 60% for sulphur, 40% for nitrogen oxides (NOx), 30% for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), 6% for ammonia and 20% for particulate matter compared to 2005 levels. And, there is also an agreement to act on called ‘Black Carbon’, a pollutant with short-lived climate forcing characteristics.

Janez Potocnk: Emphasised the importance of the agreement on tougher limits

“This is a significant step forward in protecting citizens’ health and the environment. For the first time, we have an international agreement that acknowledges the link between air pollution and climate change. By agreeing to regulate one of the contributors to climate change, ‘Black Carbon’, we will see positive impacts at both local and international level”, said Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment.

The Commissioner’s sentiments were endorsed by the Danish minister for the Environment, Ida Auken – Denmark currently holds the EU presidency.

Ms Auken said: “This is indeed an important step to reduce air pollution in Europe. “We have managed to agree to further reduce emissions within the EU and in North America, and we have paved the way for further reduction of emissions from our eastern neighbouring countries. New multilateral environmental agreements are now quite rare, so we have good reason to be satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations.”

Gothenburg Protocol

The Gothenburg Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone was adopted on 30 November 1999. It sets emission ceilings for four pollutants: sulphur, oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia and the EU said these ceilings “were negotiated on the basis of scientific assessments of pollution effects and abatement options”.

Under the Protocol, “parties whose emissions have a more severe environmental or health impact and whose emissions are relatively cheap to reduce will have to make the biggest cuts”. The Protocol also sets tight limit values for specific emission sources (such as combustion plant, electricity production, dry cleaning, cars and lorries) and requires best available techniques to be used to keep emissions down.

VOC emissions from such products as paints or aerosols will also have to be cut. Finally, farmers will have to take specific measures to control ammonia emissions. Once the Protocol is fully implemented, Europe’s sulphur emissions should be cut by at least 59%, its NOx emissions by 42%, its VOC emissions by 28%, its ammonia emissions by 6%, and its particulate matter (PM 2.5) emissions by 22%, compared to emission levels in 2005.

The European Commission says that this will result in significant reductions in human health problems related to emissions of these pollutants, as well as having wider benefits to the environment as a whole.

The agreement involves the EU, Norway, Switzerland and the United States of America. The negotiations have also involved other countries covered by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) region, notably the Russian Federation, Canada, the Ukraine, Georgia, in view of potential ratifications by such countries in the coming years. As well as improving the environment, ratification by these non-Parties would create a more level playing field for industry across the entire UNECE region.

Related links

European Commission website on air quality


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