Clean air expert groups discuss effectiveness of ‎Gothenburg Protocol

Just about 6 months after the entry into force of amendments to the Gothenburg Protocol, representing an important step in international efforts to address the air pollution challenge, several expert groups under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution met virtually this week (20-24 April 2020) to prepare the review of the effectiveness of the measures under the Protocol.

The amended Protocol establishes legally binding emission reduction commitments for 2020 and beyond for major air pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). With amendments adopted in 2012 and 23 Parties to date, the amended Protocol is already supporting action for clean air in a number of countries.

Estimates have shown that the costs of implementing the amended Protocol’s emission reduction measures would be equivalent to less than 0.01% of GDP for the EU. Given that the costs of healthcare and lost workdays due to air pollution are estimated at between 2.5% and 7% of GDP per year in Western Europe and at or above 20% of GDP per year for 10 countries in the pan-European region, this makes the agreement a highly cost-effective policy solution.

However, gaps in the implementation of the Protocol remain. To prepare for the scheduled start of the review of the Protocol later this year, the Task Force on Integrated Assessment Modelling (TFIAM) and the Task Force on Hemispheric Transport of Air Pollution (TFHTAP) discussed this week how their scientific research can contribute to highlight potential further emission reductions.

Research in the groups so far has shown that implementation gaps remain in the areas of reducing ammonia emissions from agricultural sources, nitrogen oxides emissions from shipping, and methane emissions as an ozone precursor. An important question is also to find out how emissions outside the UNECE region have influenced the air quality within the region. This points to the fact that global emission trends also need to be taken into account in the review as improvements in North America, Europe and East Asia will be compensated by further deterioration in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As cities are net exporters of pollution, multi-scale modelling, including local emission sources, also need to be considered.

Further discussions on the review of Gothenburg Protocol will be held during the fifty-eighth session of the Working Group on Strategies and Review (Geneva, 14-17 December 2020).