New emission ceilings for 2020 underway

A new study shows significant scope for additional air pollutant reductions in Europe, along with the accompanying health and environmental improvements.

Negotiations under the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) are currently looking into options for revising the 1999 Gothenburg multi-pollutant and multi-effect protocol, which establishes binding national emission ceilings for four air pollutants to be attained by 2010.

To provide negotiators with up-to-date information on cost-effective emission abatement options up to 2020, a computer model for integrated assessment is being used. This model was developed by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and is called GAINS (Greenhouse gas – Air pollution Interactions and Synergies).

The cost-effectiveness analysis is performed through the following steps:

  1. Baseline projections up to 2020 are developed that illustrate the likely development of emissions and air quality resulting from the expected economic development and implementation of existing emission control legislation within Europe.
  2. The scope of further emission reductions that could be attained by full implementation of all available technical emission control measures are explored. The costs of these measures are calculated, and it is estimated to what extent their implementation would improve air quality in Europe.
  3. Different combinations of environmental targets with various levels of ambition are investigated.
  4. The optimisation feature of the GAINS model is used to identify the least-cost combinations of measures for Europe as a whole that achieve given environmental targets.
  5. Negotiators analyse the outcome, for example, the costs and benefits to individual countries and how they are distributed in the various least-cost scenarios. From these, a main negotiating scenario is selected. The resulting allocation of emission reductions is used as a quantitative starting point for the negotiations which aim to arrive at a new multi-effect and multipollutant protocol that sets binding national emission ceilings to be attained by 2020.

A recent study, presented in September to the convention's negotiating forum, the Working Group on Strategies and Review, shows that the baseline emission projections – assuming full implementation of existing legislation – is expected to result in considerable environmental and health improvements over the next ten years. But its also shows that significant problems still remain in 2020:

  • Pollution by fine particles (PM2.5) will shorten statistical life expectancy by 4.5 to 5 months on average;
  • There will be almost 25,000 premature deaths every year caused by excess levels of ground-level ozone;
  • Biodiversity will be threatened by excessive levels of nitrogen deposition on 1.4 million square kilometres (km2) of European ecosystems; and,
  • More than 100,000 km2 of forest ecosystems will continue to receive unsustainable levels of acid deposition.

However, a wide range of specific emission abatement measures that could improve this situation are available. If these measures were applied, loss in life expectancy could be reduced by a further 50 per cent compared to the baseline case, and the number of premature deaths from ozone could be cut by an additional 20 per cent. The ecosystem area threatened from excess nitrogen deposition could be cut by a further 60 per cent (down to 560,000 km2), and the forest area endangered by acidification by 75 per cent, compared to the baseline case for 2020.

Implementing these so-called maximum technically feasible reductions (MTFR) is estimated to increase total emission control costs in Europe by 70 per cent compared to the baseline case, or by about €80 billion per year.

In a subsequent step of the analysis, the GAINS model was used to identify combinations of measures that lead to cost-effective environmental improvements and identify those measures that attain a large share of the feasible improvements at a fraction of the MTFR costs.

Figure: European land-based emissions of air pollutants in 2000 and in 2020 under two scenarios, the baseline current legislation (CLE) and the maximum technically feasible reductions (MTFR) scenarios, in kilotonnes.

Clearly, the chosen ambition level of the environmental targets as well as their spatial distribution across Europe will strongly influence the outcome of such an optimisation analysis. The study has looked at several different policy options for choosing environmental targets for the revision of the Gothenburg Protocol.

One option aims at equal relative improvements in environmental quality compared to a base year, similar to the gap-closure concept used for earlier protocols under the LRTAP convention. However this approach is now difficult as it is constrained by the presence of several countries with untypical situations.

Another option aims at equal progress in feasible environmental improvements (i.e. between the baseline and the MTFR) – a concept that was used for the EU's Clean Air For Europe programme for ecosystem related targets. This was found to lead to feasible and more equitable distributions of costs and benefits, but is sensitive to the defined reference points of the baseline and MTFR.

Applying this option for achieving 75 per cent of the feasible improvement in a cost-effective way requires only about 12 per cent of the costs of the MTFR case, showing the large cost-saving potential of using a cost-effectiveness optimisation. The estimated additional cost of €9.8 billion per year on the baseline scenario equals approximately 0.06 per cent of the countries' combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020.

A third option aims at achieving given environmental improvements across Europe irrespective of the location. This may result in environmental benefits being unevenly distributed between countries, but emission control efforts are converging in European countries. However, such a target might not efficiently protect unique ecosystems that occur only at specific locations.

Optimisation based on this last option would lead to lower costs than target setting that includes equity criteria. For a 75 per cent reduction without an equity constraint, additional emission control costs would drop to €5.5 billion per year on top of the baseline scenario.

Negotiations to revise and strengthen the Gothenburg Protocol, including widening its scope to include fine particulate matter (PM2.5), are ongoing. The aim is to adopt a revised protocol in December 2011 that will set new, stricter national emission ceilings to be achieved by 2020.

Christer Ågren

Report: Scope for further environmental improvements in 2020 beyond the baseline projections. CIAM Report 1/2010. By M. Amann et al, IIASA, Austria.

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