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Accrued emission reduction efforts for specific air pollutants would offer multiple benefits for health and the climate

Poor air quality and climate change are closely linked. Burning fossil fuels releases both air pollutants and greenhouse gases. Thus, reducing air pollution from these sources will help to improve air quality and address climate change at the same time. Some air pollutants are also climate-relevant and thus known as short-lived climate pollutants (SCLPs), such as ground-level ozone and black carbon, a component of particulate matter.

Scientific evidence demonstrates that rapid implementation of emission reduction measures to control black carbon and ground-level ozone (including methane as one of its precursors) would have immediate and multiple benefits for health, ecosystems, crops, and climate. There is a need to strengthen international efforts to address co-benefits of reducing emissions of SLCPs. Improved cooperation between and within regions is needed to enhance implementation and address transboundary air quality and climate issues.

Reducing air pollution and mitigating climate change are increasingly being approached in a more integrated way. UNECE contributes to air pollution-related climate change mitigation through the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (Air Convention), which sets emission targets for a number of key air pollutants. Through the amendments to the 1999 Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone (Gothenburg Protocol), Parties broke new ground in 2012, setting obligations to reduce the broader spectrum of short-lived climate pollutants, notably fine particulate matter, including black carbon, and ground-level ozone precursors: nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Initiatives such as the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) have also addressed the interlinkages between climate and air quality through actions to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.

Last week in Geneva, Parties to the Air Convention, international organizations, other countries and stakeholders discussed current air pollution trends, including SLCPs and interactions between air quality and climate policies, shared information on existing global and region-specific options for a policy response to bring about the largest benefits, and considered ways of cooperating in order to achieve reductions of air pollution around the globe, including SLCPs, during a special workshop (22-23 May 2019) dedicated to this issue as part of the 57th meeting of the Working Group on Strategies and Review (21-24 May 2019).

The discussions highlighted that further action and approaches to integration across sectors and policy areas to achieve benefits for air, health, biodiversity and climate are needed. The importance of hemispheric transport of pollutants, particularly of nitrogen oxides and methane from Asia, for future levels of ground-level ozone in Europe and North America, was stressed.  It was also highlighted that emissions from shipping play an important role, particularly in coastal regions, for deposition of particulate matter, ground-level ozone, sulphur and nitrogen deposition. Participants also heard that policy interventions in Asia have helped decouple economic growth and emissions trends, which has led to reductions in sulphur and nitrogen oxides emissions. Yet, to meet WHO air quality guidelines, especially for PM 2.5, further air quality improvements in Asia require a re-orientation of current policies, which would also need to focus on precursor emissions.

During the session, participants also discussed their experiences in working on integrated policy responses at the national, regional and global level. They also exchanged experiences with representatives from other regions providing a wider perspective on impacts and mitigation measures. Participants noted that a common language and messaging between countries and organizations working on air pollution and climate change issues was needed.

The session concluded with a discussion on further cooperation, also in the framework of the forum for collaboration on reducing air pollution, which will be launched during a Special 40th Anniversary Session of the Convention in December.