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Expert Opinions

Can UNECE Initiatives on Air Pollution Pave the Way for Regional and Global Action?

Lars Nordberg

 Former Chief of Unit, CLRTAP, UNECE


The 1979 UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) is the first legally binding instrument in the world on air pollution. The science-based approach of the Convention and its subsequent eight associated protocols are an example for other regions of the world where similar problems exist. Thus, initiatives such as the 1998 Malé Declaration on Control and Prevention of Air Pollution and Its Likely Transboundary Effects for South Asia (8 countries), the 1998 Acid Deposition Monitoring Network in East Asia (13 countries), the 2002 Association of Southeast Asian Nations Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (10 countries) and the 1997 Air Pollution Information Network for Africa (15 countries) have established regional schemes with CLRTAP in mind.

CLRTAP has also fostered a number of legally binding protocols on emission control and monitoring of implementation and compliance. No other regional initiative has reached that far. Acidification was the original driving force for the Convention, but other environmental issues have been added and concerns for human health have become more prominent. In regions beyond UNECE, issues related to health and food security are taking centre stage, as well as air quality in mega-cities, and CLRTAP provides a good example of how to address them.

On the global level, the 1998 Protocol on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) paved the way for a global agreement, the 2001 Stockholm Convention on POPs, negotiated under the United Nations Environment Programme. Similarly, the 1998 Protocol on Heavy Metals has contributed to a global agreement on mercury (Minamata 2013). In both cases, the assessment of risks, emission sources and mitigation options have much in common with those prepared under CLRTAP. This is a testimony to the potential of a regional initiative such as CLRTAP to facilitate other regional and global undertakings.


Indeed, CLRTAP may one day pave the way for a global instrument on air pollution. The proven flexibility of CLRTAP and its protocols, with differentiated obligations among Parties, could ideally offer a model for worldwide applications.

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