Protocol Regulating Fine Particulate Matter Enters into Force
Photo by Patrick Hendry
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The Protocol was updated in 2012 to include the reduction of fine particulate matter, thus addressing air pollution and climate change policies in an integrated manner.

The amendments to the Protocol were adopted in 2012, and entered into force on 7 October 2019.

Reducing fine particulate matter levels, specifically black carbon, helps combat climate change.

7 October 2019: An amended Gothenburg Protocol has entered into force, making it the first binding agreement to target emission reductions for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), a short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP).

The Protocol sets binding emission reduction commitments for 2020 and beyond for major air pollutants, and was negotiated under the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Convention  on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP). The Protocol was updated in 2012 to include the reduction of PM2.5, thus addressing air pollution and climate change policies in an integrated manner. The amendments to the Protocol entered into force on 7 October 2019. 

Reducing PM2.5 levels, specifically black carbon, helps combat climate change. Black carbon traps 680 times more heat than carbon dioxide (CO2). It has darkened snow and ice in the Arctic region, and contributed to regional warming.

The 1999 Gothenburg Protocol is the first agreement to target multiple air pollutants and their sources.

The Protocol also sets emission reduction limits for sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and ground-level ozone (O3) precursors nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These compounds, which can have long-term health effects even with mild exposure, are released from, inter alia, motor fuel combustion, heat and power generation, and cooking and heating fuels.

Implementing the amended Protocol’s emission reduction measures are estimated to cost less than 0.01% of gross domestic product (GDP) for the EU, making it a cost-effective policy solution, given that healthcare and lost workday costs due to air pollution are estimated at between 2.5% and 7% of GDP per year in Western Europe and above 20% of GDP per year for countries in the pan-European region.

Closely linked to climate change, air pollution, which kills seven million people every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is the world’s largest single environmental health risk. It is a leading cause of death by cancer and a major cause of environmental degradation, threatening almost two-thirds of Europe’s ecosystems, and presents a critical barrier for sustainable development.

The 1999 Gothenburg Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone was the first agreement to target multiple air pollutants and their sources, including combustion plants, electricity production, agriculture, cars and lorries. Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, the US and the EU have ratified the Protocol. Additional UNECE member States are expected to ratify the Protocol in the coming months.

The 1979 LRTAP Convention has 51 Parties, covering North America and almost the entire European continent, and eight protocols, which have helped to decouple emissions and economic growth, reduce certain air pollutants by 40 to 80%, recover forest soils from acidification, and avoid approximately 600,000 premature deaths per year. [UNECE Press Release] [UN Press Release] [Information About Gothenburg Protocol]

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