EU member states and other European countries have agreed stricter emission ceilings for four air pollutants in revisions to the 1999 UN Gothenburg protocol. They have also agreed to add a fifth pollutant from 2020.
The deal sets stricter national limits for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia (NH3). It adds new national targets for emissions of fine particulates (PM2.5).
The Gothenburg protocol, which covers most European nations and the US, has set overall national caps on emissions since 2010. In the EU it has been transposed into pollution control legislation such as the National Emissions Ceilings Directive.
Under the new targets, the UK will be required to cut SO2 emissions by 59% below 2005 levels by 2020, NOx by 55%, VOCs by 32% and PM2.5 by 30%. Ammonia will have to be cut by a comparatively modest 8% but emissions are mostly agricultural and difficult to constrain.
The UK narrowly met 2010 caps on emissions of these pollutants, mainly thanks to the impact of the recession on industrial activity (ENDS Report, January 2012).
The new UK targets are slightly tougher than those for the EU as a whole, which must cut SO2 emissions by 59% below 2005 levels by 2020, NOx by 42%, VOCs by 28%, PM2.5 emissions by 22% and ammonia by 6%.
Papers seen by ENDS show almost all of these 2020 targets are less ambitious than business as usual projections (ENDS Report, December 2011). Although the new targets are expressed as relative percentage reductions compared with 2005 levels, these can be converted to absolute figures (see table).
Green group EEB said: "The EU has not even committed to sticking to emission levels that were expected to be achieved anyway. This low level of ambition by the EU and member states is very disappointing."
But a spokesman for the European Commission said meeting the 2020 targets would still require a significant effort, including full implementation of the Industrial Emissions Directive and the EU's climate and energy package.
Environment commissioner Janez Potočnik welcomed an agreement to act on black carbon, which has a significant climate impact and is a component of PM2.5. However, there are no dedicated targets for reducing it at this stage.
The US is expected to confirm similar targets to the EU at a later date, while some central Asian countries and non-EU member states in eastern Europe are considering ratifying the revised protocol.
The new EU goals will form the basis of revisions to the National Emissions Ceilings Directive, which will be proposed in 2013 (ENDS Report, February 2011).
Technical annexes to the Gothenburg protocol limiting emissions from industrial sites, vehicles and other mobile sources have also been updated.
Please note this article has been republished with the kind permission of the ENDS Report.