New Gothenburg Protocol adopted


Between 2005 and 2020 the EU member states must jointly cut their emissions of sulphur dioxide by 59%, nitrogen oxides by 42%, ammonia by 6%, volatile organic compounds by 28% and particles by 22%.

After five years of negotiations, a revised Gothenburg Protocol was successfully finalised on 4 May 2012 at a meeting of the parties to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) in Geneva.

The Gothenburg Protocol dates back to 1999 and establishes mandatory emission reductions for four major air pollutants, to be achieved by 2010 and not exceeded thereafter (see Box).

While the original protocol sets national emission ceilings for 2010 for each pollutant, the revised protocol specifies emission reduction commitments in terms of percentage reductions from base 2005 to 2020. It has also been extended to cover one additional air pollutant, namely particulate matter (PM2.5), and thereby also black carbon as a component of PM2.5.

Negotiations were guided by a similar scientific assessment and scenario analysis as was the case for the 1999 protocol. As reported in AN 1/11, the scenario analysis demonstrated that by aiming for a level of ambition in line with the so-called High* scenario, implementation of the new protocol could by 2020 bring annual health benefits valued at up to €110-290 billion in Europe, of which €50-150 billion in the EU, and the economic value of these health benefits were calculated to be up to 55 times higher than the estimated costs involved.

But these figures obviously did not impress national governments when they settled their countries’ bids for what level of ambition to go for. At the end of the day most EU member states, as well as the non-EU countries that provided figures, went for national commitments at a much lower level of ambition.

In fact, most EU member states decided only to accept emission reduction obligations for 2020 that are even less ambitious than – or at best largely in line with – business-as-usual, i.e. reductions expected to be achieved anyway solely by implementing already existing legislation.

Overall, the EU member states’ commitments to the revised protocol mean that they shall jointly cut their emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) by 59 per cent, nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 42 per cent, ammonia (NH3) by 6 per cent, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 28 per cent and particulate matter (PM2.5) by 22 per cent, from 2005 to 2020.

For comparison, the underlying scenario analysis showed that full implementation of existing legislation is expected to result in emission reductions in the EU of 66 per cent for SO2, 50 per cent for NOx, 4 per cent for NH3, 36 per cent for VOCs, and 34 per cent for PM2.5 over the same time period.

In addition to adding commitments for one new pollutant, several of the protocol’s technical annexes were revised with updated sets of emission limit values for a number of key source sectors of air pollution, and two new annexes were added, one on PM from stationary sources and one on the VOC content of products.

A novelty introduced is that – under certain special circumstances – parties may be allowed to make adjustments to their emission reduction commitments or to their base year emission figure. This so-called adjustment procedure is strictly limited to be applied in specified extraordinary cases, for example if new emission source categories are identified that were previously not accounted for or if there are significant changes to emission factors.

So far, the new agreement involves the EU and its member states, Norway, Switzerland and the United States of America. The negotiations have however also involved other countries that are party to the Convention, such as Canada, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus, in view of their possible ratification in the coming years. As well as improving the environment, ratification by these non-parties to the Gothenburg protocol would create a more level playing field for industry across Europe and North America.

Percentage national emission reduction commitments and data on emission levels for the base year 2005 for the 27 EU member states as well as for Belarus, Croatia, Norway and Switzerland are already included in Annex II of the revised protocol. Other countries that intend to become parties to the revised protocol – notably Canada, the United States, the Russian Federation and countries in Southern and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia – will need to provide their respective 2005 data and percentage reduction commitments upon ratification of or accession to the amended protocol.

One of the Convention’s priorities over the last few years has been to provide assistance to countries in Southern and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia (i.e. mainly countries that were previously part of the then Soviet Union) in ratifying and implementing various protocols under the Convention.

In order to facilitate for these so-called SEECCA-countries to ratify and implement the revised protocol, a number of specific flexibility provisions have been introduced into the revised protocol. To take advantage of these flexibilities, a country that becomes a new party to the protocol may declare upon its ratification that it will extend any or all of the specified timescales for application of different obligations, especially those on applying emission limit values.

Depending on the emission source or pollutant, these time extensions may last for up to 15 years after the date of entry into force of the protocol for the party in question. For new stationary sources, however, the time limit is one year after entry into force for all parties.

Danish Minister for the Environment Ida Auken, who chairs the EU’s Environment Council during the Danish presidency period, welcomed the agreement: “This is indeed an important step to reduce air pollution in Europe. We have managed to agree to further reduce emissions within the EU and in North America, and we have paved the way for further reduction of emissions from our eastern neighbouring countries. New multilateral environmental agreements are now quite rare, so we have good reason to be satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations.”

Environmental groups, however, expressed disappointment with the low level of ambition by the EU and its member states, and characterised the new protocol as a missed opportunity. They said that EU member states need to wake up before 2013, which has been announced by the EU as the “Year of Air”, during which the Commission has promised to propose revisions to the EU’s national emission ceilings directive.

“We ask EU leaders to substantially raise their ambition level next year. A strengthened air pollution policy will bring enormous benefits to society, and is required in order to fulfil the health and environmental objectives of the EU’s 6th Environmental Action Programme.” said Louise Duprez from the European Environmental Bureau.

Despite the resulting low level of ambition of the national emission reduction obligations, once these have been implemented in 2020 the revised protocol is expected to result in significant reductions in human health impacts from air pollutants as well as wider benefits to the environment as a whole.

Christer Ågren

For more information, see:

The CLRTAP and 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. Cooperation under the convention includes development of policies and strategies to cut emissions of air pollutants through protocols with emission control obligations, exchanges of information, consultation, research and monitoring.

The original Gothenburg Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone was signed in 1999 and entered into force in 2005. It has been ratified by 24 European countries, as well as by the EU and the United States.

Based on a thorough scientific assessment of health and environmental benefits of pollution control, the costs and emission reduction potential of different abatement options, and an analysis of various least-cost solutions to achieve agreed interim environmental targets, varying national requirements in terms of emission reductions were established.

These are given as binding national emission ceilings for 2010 for four pollutants (SO2, NOx, VOCs and NH3). Countries whose emissions have a more severe environmental or health impact and/or whose emissions are relatively cheap to reduce should make the biggest emission cuts.



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