In 1979 some thirty nations signed the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP convention). Aimed initially at reducing the effects of acid rain through control of the emissions of sulphur, its scope was later widened to include nitrogen pollutants, volatile organic compounds and photochemical oxidants. Heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants were subsequently also added.
The Convention was formed within the ECE, the UN Economic Commission for Europe, of which all the countries of Europe are members, as well as the United States and Canada. It came into force in 1983, after ratification by the legislatures of the required two-thirds of the signatory states.
The protocols signed to date are: the first sulphur protocol (1985), the NOx protocol (1988), the VOC protocol (1991), the second sulphur protocol (1994), protocols to reduce emissions of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (both 1988 – revised in 2012 and 2009, respectively), and the Gothenburg protocol (1999 – revised in 2012).
The Gothenburg Protocol
The Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone – also called the multi-effect protocol or the Gothenburg protocol, as it was formally adopted in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1999 and entered into force in 2005. After some years of preparations and negotiations a revised Gothenburg protocol was adopted in May 2012.
The original 1999 protocol aimed to cut emissions of four pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia, by setting country-by-country emission ceilings to be achieved by the year 2010 and not exceeded thereafter. It also contains emission limit values for a number of specific emission source categories such as large combustion plants and road vehicles.
The national emission ceilings are based on the critical-loads approach with different requirements for different countries. The requirements were assigned according to cost-effectiveness, i.e. to achieve specified interim environmental targets at the lowest overall cost for Europe as a whole.
The revised Gothenburg protocol still includes binding nationally differentiated emission reduction targets, but now they are set down as percentage emission reductions between the base year 2005 and the target year 2020. It has also been extended to cover one additional pollutant, namely particulate matter (PM2.5). In addition, 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. By May 2018, the revised protocol had been ratified only by eleven Parties (Sweden, USA, Slovakia, EU, Germany, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Canada, Finland, Spain and Romania). For entry into force, it needs 18 ratifications.
Compliance with protocol obligations
Several countries are failing to comply with the protocols under the Convention, according to reviews conducted by its Implementation Committee. This failure concerns not only the obligatory emission reduction measures and targets, but also the obligation to report.
>> Further reading
European emission trends updated. Article in Acid News 4/2016.
Air Convention: More measures needed. Article in Acid News 3/2016.
Ecosystems more sensitive than previously thought. Article in Acid News 2/2016.
Emissions keep on slowly shrinking. Article in Acid News 3/2015.
New Gothenburg Protocol adopted. Article in Acid News 2/2012.
Improvements from the revision. Article in Acid News 2/2012.
New Gothenburg Protocol soon to be agreed. Article in Acid News 1/2012.
Finding ambition levels for a revised protocol. Article in Acid News 3/2011.
Negotiations for new emission ceilings. Article in Acid News 2/2011.
Political development. Chapter 9 in AirClim’s book Air and the Environment (published in 2004).
Last updated 2018-05-30