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New study calls for accrued efforts to clean Europe’s air

A new study led by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) shows that current legislation in Europe, while significantly improving air quality, is insufficient to remove the region’s many pollution hotspots . Hosting a centre for the Co-operative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (Air Convention), IIASA supports the policymaking process under the Convention by providing air pollution emission scenarios.

For the first time, the study analysed particulate matter at individual monitoring stations across Europe. Particulate matter, a major component of air pollution, has been classified as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) and is linked to about 600,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2012.

The results of the study show that for some parts of Europe, safe levels of air quality – according to WHO guidelines – will not be reached if measures beyond the current legislation are not taken. In particular, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, northern Italy, southern Poland and Slovakia, as well as major European cities such as Milan, Paris, and Warsaw will be affected. Pollution sources are numerous and while power plants and traffic are responsible for part of it, the sources commonly overlooked are agriculture and residential heating, as was recently highlighted by work from task forces under the Air Convention.

The study also finds that, while some particulate matter pollution is local, a considerable part of it can come from sources far away. Given that air pollutants can travel thousands of kilometres, cooperation across borders is vital to improve air quality.  For the first time in international environmental policy-making,  Parties to the Air Convention agreed, in 2012, to limit the emissions of fine particulate matter until 2020, by amending the 1999 Gothenburg Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone.  In order for these commitments to enter into force and to bring about air pollution reductions, 18 Parties still need to ratify the amended Protocol.