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EU leaders asked to ensure a high ambition level in the revised Gothenburg Protocol on air pollution

To: Mr. Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for Environment and Mrs. Ida Auken, Minister for the Environment of Denmark

Cc: Ministers for Environment of EU Member States and Mr. Karl Falkenberg, Director General, DG Environment

G10 EU directors letter: Call for EU leaders to ensure a high ambition level in the revised Gothenburg Protocol on air pollution

Brussels, 27th February 2012

Dear Commissioner Potocnik, Dear Minister Auken,

From 30 April to 4 May 2012, the parties to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), including the EU, will meet and decide on the amendments to the Gothenburg Protocol on air pollution. We are writing as the Green 10 to urge you to take all necessary steps towards an ambitious agreement.

Background: the cost of air pollution in Europe

Every year, air pollution causes nearly half a million premature deaths in the EU 27. This corresponds to almost 4.5 million years of life lost. In addition to premature deaths, increased hospital admissions, extra medication and millions of lost working days, air pollution causes significant damage to ecosystems, agricultural crops, modern materials, and our cultural heritage. More than 70 % of the EU’s sensitive ecosystem areas are still subject to nitrogen deposition in excess of their critical loads.

Fighting air pollution does not only improve and extend people’s lives. It can also bring huge socioeconomic benefits. In the year 2000 only, the health damage from air pollution was estimated to amount to between €277 and €790 billion.

By aiming for a level of ambition in line with the so-called High* scenario, the implementation of a revised Gothenburg Protocol could bring monetary benefits that amount to up to €110-290 billion per year in Europe (of which €50-150 billion in the EU27). Those benefits would be up to 55 times higher than the costs involved. In all cases, it is financially worthwhile to fight air pollution.

Impacts on the EU’s air pollution policy and 2013 “Year of Air”

The revision of the Gothenburg Protocol presents a major opportunity for the EU to significantly improve the air quality in Europe, in line with the ambitions and objectives of the 6th Environment Action Programme (EAP). This could be done by the EU agreeing to strict emission reduction obligations by 2020 for the EU member states, and thereby also pushing non-EU countries in the same direction, which is of great importance since air pollutant emissions in non-EU countries markedly impact ambient air quality and depositions in EU member states.

The Protocol’s revision is likely to have major consequences for the EU’s air policy strategy for the years to come, in particular for the long delayed revision of the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD) and the ongoing review of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution (TSAP). It therefore needs to be as ambitious as possible to provide a strong basis for the proposals expected in EU’s “year of air” in 2013.

A high level of ambition under the Gothenburg Protocol will also help fight climate change more efficiently and cheaply. Air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs, precursors to ground-level ozone) or black carbon contribute also to global climate change. Cutting their emissions will therefore help both climate mitigation and air quality policies.

Recommendations

Negotiations under the CLRTAP have so far been a great disappointment as most EU member states and non-EU countries appear to aim for a very low level of ambition, with some member states even hesitating to accept emission reduction obligations in line with the baseline scenario (i.e. assuming solely the implementation of already existing legislation). We therefore urge you to make sure that the EU and other parties to the CLRTAP aim towards:

  • Agreeing a level of ambition for national emission reduction obligations for 2020 that is at least in line with the High* scenario;
  • Adopting ambitious binding emission limit values (ELVs) for specific sources of pollution, preferably at least in line with Option 1 in the draft technical annexes. Currently, the ELVs considered for adoption are either in line with or more lenient than existing EU legislation.

Overall, the EU should ensure that levels of air quality are achieved that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on or risks to human health and the environment, as stated in the 6th EAP.

Thank you for your support.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Wates, Secretary General, European Environmental Bureau

On behalf of the Green 10 Directors

Green 10 EU Directors:

  • Angelo Caserta, Regional Director of the European Division, BirdLife International
  • Wendel Trio, Director, Climate Action Network Europe
  • Tony Long, Director, WWF -European Policy Office
  • Anelia Stefanova, Director, CEE Bankwatch Network
  • Jeremy Wates, Secretary General, European Environmental Bureau
  • Genon K. Jensen, Executive Director, Health & Environment Alliance
  • Agnieszka Komoch, Acting Director, Friends of the Earth Europe
  • Christian Baumgartner, Generalsekretär, Friends of Nature International
  • Jorgo Riss, Director, Greenpeace European Unit
  • Jos Dings, Director, European Federation for Transport & Environment

Last updated on 29 February 2012

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