Since 1979 the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution has addressed some of the major environmental problems of the UNECE region through scientific collaboration and policy negotiation. The aim of the Convention is that Parties shall endeavour to limit and, as far as possible, gradually reduce and prevent air pollution including long-range transboundary air pollution. Parties develop policies and strategies to combat the discharge of air pollutants through exchanges of information, consultation, research and monitoring. The Convention has been extended by eight protocols that identify specific measures to be taken by Parties to cut their emissions of air pollutants.
Recently, the Convention’s three latest Protocols have been amended, to address remaining environmental challenges, and the health effects of air pollution.
The classification by the International Agency for Cancer Research of air pollution as carcinogenic, it causing lung cancer and being positively associated with bladder cancer, demonstrate the need for urgent action.
The Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone (Gothenburg Protocol) was amended in 2012 to introduce emission reduction commitments for 2020 and beyond for multiple pollutants including sulphur, nitrogen oxides and ammonia. As the first international agreement, the amended Gothenburg Protocol further contains obligations to reduce the broader spectrum of short-lived climate pollutants, notably fine particulate matter incl. black carbon, as well as the ground-level ozone precursors nitrogen oxides and non-methane volatile organic compounds. As such, the amended Gothenburg Protocol directly addresses the linkages between air pollution and climate change. Immediate and enhanced action to reduce short-lived climate pollutants has the potential to reduce local climate change in the near term. The “On thin ice” report highlights the need for urgent action in this area.
Amendments to the Protocol on Heavy Metals were also adopted in 2012 to introduce more stringent emission limit values for mercury, cadmium and lead and enlarge the list of emission source categories. The Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants was amended in 2009 to include seven new substances, revised obligations and emission limits from waste incineration.
All amended Protocols introduce flexibilities for new Parties in terms of time scales for the application of emission limit values and best available technologies. The work under the Convention focuses on strengthening the implementation of the Protocols throughout the ECE region and on facilitating ratification and accession by the countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia and Southeast Europe. Moreover, the Convention shares its knowledge and information with other regions of the world.
Martin Williams, Chair of the Executive Body, speaks in an interview about the Convention’s achievements, the main sources of air pollution and the need for action to combat air pollutants with adverse health effects.
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