EUROPE: air pollution falls significantly since 1990

In Europe, sulphur emissions have halved since 1980, nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx) are down 16% on their 1990 levels, emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are 20% lower than in 1990, and ammonia emissions have dropped 18% since 1990, says a new report from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

These improvements are largely due to the 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, which was drawn up under the auspices of UN/ECE, says the report Major Review of Strategies and Policies for Air Pollution Abatement. This framework Convention and its seven Protocols have forced the countries that have signed up to them to make sweeping cuts in air pollution and also put political pressure on non-parties to keep their emissions down.

As well as assessing progress, the four-yearly Major Review — to which the Parties themselves contribute — describes the measures they have introduced to comply with the Convention and curb air pollution: e.g. legislation, economic instruments, technical requirements. It also includes tables with the emission levels of those air pollutants that are covered by the Protocols and maps of the most vulnerable ecosystems.

The review shows that Austria’s, Finland’s and Sweden’s emissions of sulphur are less than a fifth of their 1980 level, Canada’s are 45% lower and Bulgaria’s are 30% down. The biggest single source of sulphur emissions is public power generation. Ireland, France, the United States, Italy and Spain, which are all Parties to the NOx Protocol, have not cut their emissions of nitrogen oxides.

The United States still emits 21.2 million tons of NOx a year, the European part of the Russian Federation 2.5 million tons. The main culprit of NOx emissions is road transport. Many Parties to the VOC Protocol have already met their VOC reduction targets or are likely to do so by the end of this year. However, Italy, Spain and Norway have not managed to curb their VOC emissions at all, says the report.

A new Protocol to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution is expected to be adopted at a meeting in Gothenburg (Sweden), in November (see related story). This new Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone is intended to set more ambitious targets for reducing transboundary air pollution.

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