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The science behind air quality – 40 years of cooperation in Europe and beyond

Long before negotiations on the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution started in the late seventies, countries in Europe established scientific cooperation across borders to tackle the problem of air pollution, acid rain, and die-back of forests.

In particular, it was the need to compare data and share experiences that led to the development of a programme for the monitoring and evaluation of long-range transmission of air pollutants under the auspices of UNECE. When the first meeting of the steering body to this programme was opened in August 1977, the Cooperative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe (EMEP) was born.

Maneuvering through political tensions between East and West during the Cold War period, the programme has since developed into the backbone of the science-policy interface for the Convention. The exchange of experience and know-how through EMEP’s network of scientists over the years enabled continued progress towards ever more refined, accurate and comparable data. Among the most important achievements of EMEP is bringing together scientists and policymakers in the UNECE region for common and productive dialogue to support progress in improving air quality.

Today, as more and more industrializing countries are facing problems linked to severe air pollution, debates around how to tackle air pollution are resurfacing in international forums. With its 40 years of experience, EMEP’s contributions to these debates are more relevant than ever.

At the age of 40, EMEP is working on persisting and new challenges, such as exposure to particle pollution, which is now responsible for almost half a million premature deaths in Europe per year. EMEP also increasingly works with other regions, such as the Arctic and parts of Asia, to tackle some of the global challenges posed by air pollution.

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of EMEP during the Third Joint session of the Working Group on Effects and the Steering Body to EMEP (Geneva, 11 to 15 September 2017) the EMEP Steering Body emphasizes the importance of international cooperation on both the science and policy levels, and highlights the need for strengthened cooperation beyond the UNECE region to reduce air pollution worldwide.