Finding new ambition levels

Significant additional emission reductions and accompanying environmental improvements can be achieved in Europe by 2020. Health benefits alone far outweigh the extra costs for emission control.

Aiming high? Pole vault athlete Angelica Bengtsson did just that, winning her a gold medal at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. The negotiators of the Gothenburg Protocol have not yet made up their minds about what level they are aiming at. Photo: Singapore 2010 Youth Olympics

This year, negotiations for a revised Gothenburg Protocol to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution Convention (CLRTAP) are to be finalised. The convention's negotiating body, the Working Group on Strategies and Review (WGSR), met in Geneva on 12-16 September with the intention of arriving at a close-to-ready protocol text to be finally agreed by the convention's Executive Body in December.

Since little progress was achieved at the previous negotiating session in March, there were many issues to resolve, including the level of environmental ambition, the new national emission ceilings for 2020, and updating of the technical annexes that among other things specify emission limit values for different emission sources.

There is general agreement to extend the protocol by adding fine particles (PM2.5) to the four pollutants that are currently covered (see box), and that black carbon should also be included in the revision as a component of PM2.5. Since the current protocol has been ratified by only 26 of the convention's 51 parties in Europe and North America, there is also a general aim to get more countries to sign, especially those in Central and Eastern Europe.

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

Between 2005 and 2020, emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) in the 38 European countries covered, are expected to come down by about 50 per cent as a result of current legislation (baseline), while those of nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ammonia (NH3) are projected to fall by 45, 32, 20 and 7 per cent, respectively.

There is however significant scope for further reductions. If every country were to apply the maximum technically feasible reduction measures (MTFR) contained in the model it would cut SO2 and PM2.5 emissions by nearly 80 per cent by 2020, NOx and VOCs by close to 60 per cent, and NH3 by 35 per cent, compared to 2005.

In addition to these technical measures, even further reductions can be achieved by structural changes, such as energy savings and efficiency improvements, switching from fossil fuels to cleaner renewable sources of energy, changes in transport and agriculture policies, and changes in consumer behaviour (eating less meat, walking and cycling more, etc.).

The scenarios are constructed for what is known as a gap closure approach, aiming at step-wise health and environmental improvements. In effect this means closing the gap between the impacts of the baseline and the MTFR scenarios. Negotiators have studied five gap-closure scenarios , investigating varying levels of ambition, from 25 to 75 per cent gap closure for four different health and environmental targets (see table 1 and figure 1).

Table 1: Summary of gap closure percentages of various ambition levels (scenarios) for the main impact indicators.


Figure 1: Per cent improvement (gap-closure) by 2020 from the situation in year 2000. (100% = no exceedance of ecosystem critical loads, and no premature deaths due to air pollution.)

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Figure 2: Annual emissions in the year 2020 of various scenarios for 38 European countries combined. 100% equals emission levels in 2005.

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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 compared to the MTFR scenario.

Estimated costs and non-monetised benefits to individual countries of the various scenarios have been presented in a report1 and another study2 has performed an economic valuation of the health benefits from emission reductions. The results are analysed by countries' negotiators, a main negotiating scenario is selected, and the resulting allocation of emission reductions to different countries is used as a quantitative starting point for the negotiations.

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 €10.7 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.

To put these figures in perspective, 0.01 per cent of GDP corresponds to 10 minutes of work per year for each person, assuming 250 eight-hour workdays per year, according to the report.
Estimates of the health benefits show that these may amount to some €30-80 billion/year for the two low scenarios, €60-160 billion/year for the mid scenario, and €100-240 billion/year for the two high scenarios.

The lower figures in these spans are based on valuing mortality impacts using the value of a life year lost (VOLY), while the higher figures use the value of a statistical life lost (VSL). All figures given here are adjusted using the so-called purchasing power parity (PPP) – if the EU average valuation throughout the region is used instead, figures would be about 20 per cent higher.

For all scenarios the monetised health benefits significantly exceed the costs. Some examples: for the Mid scenario the benefits exceed the costs by between 28 times (lowest valuation) and 86 times (highest valuation), and for the High* scenario the benefits-to-cost ratio is between 18 and 55 (see table 2).

Table 2: Total monetised annual health damage by air pollution in 2020 (€billions/year), net annual benefits (monetised health benefits minus emission control costs) in 2020 (€billions/year), and benefits-to-cost ratios for the various scenarios.

It should be noted that these monetised benefits do not include impacts to ecosystems, agricultural crops or materials. Nor do they include for example chronic effects of ozone on health.

As late as December 2010 all parties agreed that the revised protocol was to be finalised and adopted before the end of 2011. But negotiations have proceeded much slower than anticipated. At the March meeting, there was virtually no discussion on the preferred level of ambition, and this was again the case at the September meeting.

While the choice of ambition level will strongly influence the final outcome regarding the national emission ceilings, it should also 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.

The ELVs currently under consideration in the draft texts are certainly not very ambitious. After the September meeting, there are only two ambition levels left – one that is largely in line with already adopted EU legislation, and another with even more lenient standards.

While the national emission ceilings are to be achieved by all parties by 2020, eastern European countries, led by Russia and Belarus, claim they will need a transition period of 15-20 years to implement the ELVs for existing stationary sources, such as power plants. Rather surprisingly, the request for such a generous transition period seems so far to be acceptable to both the EU and the USA.

Provided that agreement will actually be reached in December on all the elements of the revised Gothenburg Protocol, the formal signing and adoption can take place around four months later, i.e. most probably in May 2012.

Christer Ågren

1 An updated set of scenarios of cost-effective emission reductions for the revision of the Gothenburg Protocol. 26 August 2011. By M. Amann et al, CIAM/IIASA, Austria. The report and other documents from the September session of the Working Group on Strategies and Review are available at:
2 Cost benefit analysis for the revision of the national emissions ceilings directive: Policy options for revisions to the Gothenburg Protocol to the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. 4 August 2011. By M. Holland et al, AEA, UK. Available at:

The Gothenburg Protocol

The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) dates back to 1979 and covers 51 parties in Europe and North America. It 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 (SO2, NOx, VOCs and NH3), 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.
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