25th anniversary of the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution

Speech Published 01 Dec 2004 Last modified 16 Oct 2014, 12:56 PM
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Geneva, 1 December 2004

The EEA perspective

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director, European Environment Agency

Secretary of State, Executive Secretary, Distinguished Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I first congratulate UNECE and all those who have been involved in the creation and development of the Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution Convention at today's 25th anniversary. The achievements in reducing air pollution, especially in Europe, are very real and should be widely acknowledged by citizens and governments alike. Last week the European Environment Agency celebrated its10th anniversary and at that time we recognised the close dialogue and partnerships that have developed over that time with many of you. Without these the Agency would not be in the position it is to put in place the key building blocks to build a shared European spatial environmental information service.
The convention managed successfully to achieve agreements on emission ceilings and mitigation measures amongst its 49 parties already from the 1980s onwards, when cooperation between East and West Europe was not so well developed. Successful measures included desulphurisation at power plants and facilitating the introduction of catalysts for passenger cars. The success of the convention has been built upon the systematic scientific approach, broad support and participation among its parties, as well as industry, through an extensive network of expertise on emissions, costs of abatement, atmospheric modelling and effects. A key success factor has been the transparency of information for all stakeholders. The convention developed and used innovative concepts and models supporting the science-policy interface to directly feed the policy debate. These include (1) the critical load concept allowing an effect-oriented approach taking into account the spatial variability of ecosystem properties across Europe and also including exposure of humans, and (2) the extensive use of integrated assessment modelling including scenarios and estimates of costs of mitigation by country and by sector, as well as the ‘blame matrices' showing which countries are responsible for pollution in another country. The convention has been a true forerunner in understanding the importance and the use of spatial information for policy purposes. We now propose to link the data collected under the convention to the Corine Land Cover decadal analysis. This will enable us to more accurately measure the dynamic relationship between the many uses of our land, including agriculture, urban sprawl, industrial energy production and combustion, and nature protection, and the pressures that are influenced by national and European policies, including forestry, agriculture, energy and transport, and key elements in the EU Inspire Directive and Global Monitoring and Environmental Security initiatives.

The success of the convention is reflected in the fact that important parts of EU legislation on air pollution are built upon the findings and concepts developed under the LRTAP convention, including the National Emission Ceilings Directive and the forthcoming EU Thematic strategy and its underpinning Clean Air for Europe, due in 2005, that will make use of the LRTAP convention's information base. The EEA relies heavily on data generated within the convention to report on its core set of indicators and undertake its assessment work: for example key EEA products such as the 2003 report ‘Europe's environment: the third assessment' for the Kiev Ministerial Conference', Signals2004, and next year's State of the Environment and Outlook Report. But the reality is that with an improving science base for monitoring, the long-term perspectives against which targets are set will need to be rigorously assessed, as there is the potential for shifting both the baselines and the ceilings. This presents a serious challenge not only for the science community but for governments as well.

At the end of the day - implementation is the key to real success! We must ensure that Europe succeeds in implementing agreed commitments and measures. Not only does implementation require that countries commit themselves to ratifying protocols -- it is encouraging to see that the Gothenburg Protocol probably will become in force in 2005, but also a system for checking of compliance through reporting and appropriate resources for a proper QA/QC of national data, including air quality, deposition and emission data. The EEA would like to stress that strengthening QA/QC of emission inventories is and imperative and of common interest to the convention, the EU and its Member States. The Agency is therefore very pleased to have been involved in a close cooperation, through our European Topic Centre on Air and Climate Change, with the Inventory Improvement Programme of the Task Force on Emission Inventories and Projections through annual joint workshops with our EIONET network. We will now be undertaking an initial review of CLRTAP and NEC inventories. Our common interest is also shown through annual back-to-back meetings with the Task Force on Measurements and Modelling on Air Quality issues.

But this is not enough. There is a growing, yet unnecessary competition amongst those supporting the data and information needs to address climate change with those involved in air pollution work. And yet they represent two ends of the same set of processes -- one at the global scale the other at a local level. The governments involved in the high profiling of activities in the UNFCCC will also need to recognise that the link between health and environment will be one of the main driving forces in the air pollution field in the years to come! The evidence of climate change impacts is becoming well documented; what is less well known is the effects of climate change on the hemispheric distribution of pollutants. In a joint report with UNEP, the Agency identified the effects of pollutants in the indigenous populations in the Arctic, especially in Greenland: this problem has been underlined in a recent study from Denmark where the body burdens in the female human population in Greenland of pollutants, all of which arrive via long range transport mechanisms, are so high as to reduce life expectancy by 10 years on average.

That the recent numbers produced by WHO indicate a significant impact of air pollution on life expectancy in Europe is another signal. That we do not yet understand the long-term effects of low dose - long exposure on children is of even greater concern.
For example, high levels of reactive nitrogen compounds are known to be a major cause not only of eutrophication and damage to the ozone layer but also as a determinant of human health via the effects on children's neurological development.

More scientific work is also needed to better understand which specific pollutants and which size of particulates are most harmful and better information is urgently needed on the emission sources and their spatial distribution to optimise future policies in this area.

It is becoming increasingly clear that global background ozone levels are rising and European action alone will likely no longer be sufficient. Together the convention and the EU have an important role in linking and harmonizing air pollution abatement between North America, Europe and Asia. Here a better scientific understanding of the movements and impacts of ozone, particulates and POPs in the northern hemisphere is now needed. We are pleased to see that a clear link has been established between USA and the European Community on this issue, linked to GMES.

It will become increasingly important to assess and implement the most cost-effective measures to combat air pollution, especially since many of the cheaper measure have already been taken. Thus the burden of proof on the science and concept underpinning policy will increase in the future.

Combining policies and measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions with measures to abate air pollution is one way of lowering abatement costs significantly - not only in Europe but in other parts of the world as well.

An integrated approach is increasingly required when it comes to national sectoral policies, which often do not fully cover environmental concerns and ensure the internalisation of external costs. Innovative eco-efficient and market oriented solutions will be needed which industry can develop and implement, if governments create and maintain the right conditions. In particular the shipping and aviation sectors need to be better addressed through policies ensuring that the sectors are more accountable for their contribution to total burdens. Also ammonia from agriculture still poses large problems - one of the largest threats regarding acidification and eutrophication.

Despite significant efforts in the last decades, air pollution is still with us and continues to be a serious threat to human health and to ecosystems. Exposure to fine particulates is a major threat to human health that needs to be urgently addressed at international, nationals and local levels equivalent to the efforts being placed in the sphere of climate change. The LRTAP convention has an important role to play in this area over the coming years.

Thank you for your attention.

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