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New Air Pollution protocol to take effect on 17 May 2005

Published: 01 March 2005


Portugal is the 16th country to ratify the Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone, which will, consequently, enter into force on 17 May 2005.

The Protocol was originally adopted on 30 November 1999 in Gothenburg (Sweden) and signed by 31 countries. It is the eighth to take effect under the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The Gothenburg Protocol is a major step forward in the development of international pollution controls. It aims at controlling several pollutants and their effects through a single agreement. The Protocol sets new targets for emission cuts by 2010 for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It also sets, for the first time, targets for ammonia controls. Countries whose emissions have the most severe health or environmental impact and whose emissions are the cheapest to reduce will have to make the biggest cuts.

The Protocol also sets limit values for specific emission sources (e.g. combustion plant, electricity production, dry cleaning, cars and lorries) and requires best available techniques to be used to keep emissions down. VOC emissions from such products as paints or aerosols will also have to be cut. Finally, farmers will have to control ammonia emissions (manure, artificial fertilizer).

The stricter measures for sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide will help stop acidification and the effects of excess nitrogen (eutrophication). By bringing sulphur emissions down further, the Protocol will protect many more thousands of square kilometres from “acid rain”. For eutrophication, too, the Protocol will bring about marked improvements. There are currently large areas of Europe receiving excess nitrogen deposition and worldwide this is a problem of increasing concern.

Cuts in VOC and nitrogen oxide emissions will decrease concentrations of ground-level ozone and the damage they cause to crops, natural vegetation and human health (see below). Ground-level ozone damages lung function, particularly in children and asthmatics. Ozone also causes leaf injury in plants, including crops and trees, and causes mainly organic materials like paint or rubber to disintegrate.

Figure. The number of days with ozone above 60 ppb (a threshold set for human health effects) in 1990 (left) and in 2010 for the emissions agreed in the Gothenburg Protocol (right)

Source: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

The 16 Parties to the Protocol, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United States and the European Community, will hold their first meeting in December 2005 in Geneva. Here they are likely to start work on a review of the Protocol to see if it needs updating.

For further information, please contact:

Keith BULL

Environment and Human Settlements Division
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)
Palais des Nations, office 346
CH - 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Phone: +41(0)22 917 23 54
Fax: +41(0)22 917 06 21
E-mail: keith.bull@unece.org
Web site: http://www.unece.org/env/lrtap/welcome.html

Ref. ECE/ENV/05/P02

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Information Unit

Palais des Nations, 

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 44 44

Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 05 05