Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution

The 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution was established within the framework of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The Convention was the first international legally binding instrument to deal with problems of air pollution on a broad regional basis. Besides laying down the general principles of international cooperation for air pollution abatement, the Convention sets up an institutional framework bringing together research and policy.

The Gothenburg Protocol considers the linked impacts of NOx, NH3, SO2 and VOCs in relation to the issues of acidification, eutrophication and photochemical oxidants. These linkages are shown in the figure below taken from Grennfelt et al. (1994).

Gothenburg Protocol

The Gothenburg protocol is a natural continuation of the earlier protocols under the Convention. As a modern, "second-generation" protocol, it takes full account of the interdependence of various environmental problems and the related pollutants.

The emission ceilings were negotiated on the basis of scientific assessments of pollution effects and abatement options. 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. Once the Protocol is fully implemented, Europe's sulphur emissions should be cut by at least 63%, its NOx emissions by 41%, its VOC emissions by 40% and its ammonia emissions by 17% compared to 1990.

The Protocol also sets tight limit values for specific emission sources (e.g. 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. Guidance documents adopted together with the Protocol provide a wide range of abatement techniques and economic instruments for the reduction of emissions in the relevant sectors, including transport and agriculture.

It has been estimated that once the Protocol is implemented, the area in Europe with excessive levels of acidification will shrink from 93 million hectares in 1990 to 15 million hectares. That with excessive levels of eutrophication will fall from 165 million hectares in 1990 to 108 million hectares. The number of days with excessive ozone levels will be halved. Consequently, it is estimated that life-years lost as a result of the chronic effects of ozone exposure will be about 2,300,000 lower in 2010 than in 1990, and there will be approximately 47,500 fewer premature deaths resulting from ozone and particulate matter in the air. The exposure of vegetation to excessive ozone levels will be 44% down on 1990.

In May 2012, EU member states and other European countries agreed stricter targets to control sulphur dioxide (SO2),nitrogen dioxide (NOx), Volatile Organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia (NH3). The latest revision also makes provision for the control of particulate matter (PM 2.5). Across the EU 27 member states must cut SO2 emissions by 59% below 2005 levels by 2020, NOx by 42%, VOCs by 28%, PM 2.5 by 22% and NH3 by 6%. The UK targets are slightly more stringent than those for the EU as a whole. The UK will be required to cut SO2 emissions by 59% below 2005 levels by 2020, NOx by 55%, VOCs by 32%, PM 2.5  by 30% and NH3 cut by 8%.

In December 2013 the Commission published the European Clean Air Package. Part of the package included ratification of the May 2012 Gothenburg targets. The proposal for the revision of the NECD adopts the Gothenburg targets which must be put in place by 2020.The Gothenburg targets will be delivered via the proposed revised NECD, the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) and proposals for a new Directive on medium sized combustion plant.