Negotiating new air pollutant ceilings

Significant environmental improvements can be achieved while additional costs still stay well below 0.1 per cent of GDP. Moreover, health benefits alone outweigh the costs by ten times or more.

Negotiations are ongoing for a revised Gothenburg Protocol to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP). At a meeting of the convention's negotiating body, the Working Group on Strategies and Review (WGSR), in Geneva on 11-16 March, discussions focussed on the level of environmental ambition, the new emission ceilings for 2020, and updating of the technical annexes that among other things specify emission limit values for different emission sources.

The current protocol covers four pollutants (see box), and there is general agreement to extend it to add fine particles (PM2.5), and that black carbon should also be included in the revision of the Gothenburg Protocol as a component of PM2.5.

To assess various levels of environmental ambition and the resulting national emission ceilings for 2020 that would be required to meet the environmental targets, the GAINS computer model for integrated assessment is being used to inform and assist negotiators. The optimisation feature of the GAINS model identifies cost-effective emission abatement options and the least-cost combinations of measures for Europe as a whole that achieve specified environmental targets.

Negotiators analyse the outcome from GAINS, such as the costs and benefits to individual countries and how these are distributed in the various least-cost scenarios. From these scenarios, a main negotiating scenario will eventually be selected. The resulting allocation of emission reductions to different countries is used as a quantitative starting point for the negotiations.

The scenarios are constructed for what is known as a gap closure approach, aiming at step-wise health and environmental improvements (see AN 3/10, pp. 14-15). So far, negotiators have been looking at five gap-closure scenarios, investigating varying levels of ambition, from 25 to 75 per cent gap closure for four different health and environmental targets: Health damage from PM2.5; Health damage from ground-level ozone (O3); Eutrophication from excess nitrogen deposition; and, Acidification from excess sulphur and nitrogen deposition (see table).

Named from "low" to "high", the outcome of these five scenarios can be compared to the situation in a baseline case, which assumes full implementation of current legislation in all countries by 2020, and also with a scenario that assumes all countries will apply so-called maximum technically feasible reduction measures (MTFR).

As shown in the table, the costs for the additional emission abatement measures range from €0.6 billion per year in 2020 for the Low scenario case, and up to €10.6 billion/yr for the HIGH case. If expressed as a percentage of GDP in 2020, for the Mid case this is equivalent to 0.01 per cent, for the High* case 0.03 per cent, and for the HIGH case 0.07 per cent as an average for the whole region.

Preliminary estimates of the health benefits indicate that these may amount to some €35-40 billion/year for the two low scenarios, about €70 billion/year for the mid scenario, and more than €100 billion/year for the two high scenarios.

Interestingly, calculations were presented showing that the additional working time required to pay for the additional costs, would be more than compensated in five of the six scenarios by the working time gained from less absence from work resulting from reduced health impacts.

At this March meeting, there was virtually no discussion on the preferred level of ambition, which means that if a revised protocol is to be signed before the end of this year – as was agreed by all parties as late as December 2010 – this issue will have to be settled at the next (and final?) negotiating meeting in Geneva on 12-16 September.

Clearly, the final choice of ambition level will strongly influence the final outcome regarding the national emission ceilings. It should however be noted that the ceilings are complemented by a general requirement to implement best available techniques and apply binding emission limit values (ELVs) for a number of specific emission source categories, including large combustion plants and road vehicles. Therefore the level of ambition of the ELVs, the emission sources covered by these, and the deadlines set for their implementation are also of great importance for the overall outcome.

Christer Ågren

The Gotheburg Protocol

The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) dates back to 1979 and covers 51 parties in Europe and North America. The convention is extended by eight protocols that specify emission reduction commitments and identify specific abatement measures to be taken. Cooperation under the convention includes development of policies and strategies to cut emissions of air pollutants through exchanges of information, consultation, research and monitoring.
The Gothenburg Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone was signed in 1999 and entered into force in 2005. It sets binding national emission ceilings for 2010 for four pollutants (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia), contains emission limit values for a number of specific emission source categories such as large combustion plants and road vehicles, and requires the use of best available techniques.

For more information, see:

The report and other documents from the 48th session of the Working Group on Strategies and Review are available here.
Scenario analysis report: Cost-effective emission reductions to improve air quality in Europe in 2020. 31 March 2011. By M. Amann et al, CIAM/IIASA, Austria.

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