Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution
Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution
Decision 81/462/EEC concluding the Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution
Under the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, the parties (i.e. the countries which ratified it) commit themselves to working together to limit, to gradually prevent and to reduce their discharges of air pollutants in order to combat the resulting transboundary pollution.
The Council decision concludes the convention on behalf of the EU. All Member States are parties to the convention as well.
Long-range transboundary air pollution is defined as the release, directly or indirectly due to human activity, of substances into the air which have adverse effects on human health or the environment in another country and for which the contribution of individual emission sources or groups of sources cannot be distinguished.
In total, the following 8 separate protocols have been developed under this convention.
The 1984 protocol on long-term financing of the cooperative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollution in Europe (EMEP Protocol): an instrument for the international cost-sharing of a monitoring programme which forms the backbone for the review and assessment of European air pollution in the light of agreements on emission reduction.
The 1985 protocol on the reduction of sulphur emissions or their transboundary fluxes (Helsinki Protocol) by at least 30% compared with 1980 levels.
The 1988 protocol concerning the control of emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) or their transboundary fluxes (Sofia Protocol): a first step requires the freezing of emissions of NOx or their transboundary fluxes at 1987 levels; a second step requires the application of an effects-based approach to further reduce emissions of nitrogen compounds, including ammonia (NH3), and of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), in view of their contribution to photochemical pollution, acidification and eutrophication and of their effects on human health, the environment and materials, by addressing all significant emission sources.
The 1991 protocol on the control of emissions of VOCs or their transboundary fluxes: these compounds are responsible for the formation of ground-level ozone and parties have to opt for 1 of 3 emission-reduction targets, to be reached by 1999:
a 30% reduction in VOCs, using a year between 1984 and 1990 as a basis;
a 30% reduction in emissions of VOCs within the tropospheric ozone management area specified in Annex I to the protocol and ensuring that total national emissions do not exceed 1988 levels; or
where emissions in 1988 did not exceed certain specified levels, parties may opt for a stabilisation at that level of emission.
The 1994 protocol on further reduction of sulphur emissions (Oslo Protocol): this protocol builds on the 1985 Helsinki Protocol and sets emission ceilings until 2010 and beyond. Parties are required to take the most effective measures for the reduction of sulphur emissions, including:
increasing energy efficiency;
using renewable energy;
reducing the sulphur content of fuels; and
applying best available control technologies (BATs). The protocol also encourages the application of economic instruments for the adoption of cost-effective approaches to the reduction of sulphur emissions.
The 1998 protocol on heavy metals (Aarhus Protocol): it targets 3 metals cadmium, lead and mercury. Parties will have to reduce their emissions for these below their levels in 1990 (or an alternative year between 1985 and 1995). The protocol aims to cut emissions from industrial sources, combustion processes and waste incineration. It lays down stringent limit values for emissions from stationary sources and suggests BATs for these sources, such as special filters or scrubbers for combustion sources or mercury-free processes. The protocol requires parties to phase out leaded petrol. It also introduces measures to lower heavy-metal emissions from other products, such as mercury in batteries, and proposes the introduction of management measures for other mercury-containing products, such as electrical components, measuring devices, fluorescent lamps, dental amalgam, pesticides and paint. The protocol was amended in 2012 to introduce more stringent emission limit values (ELVs) for emissions of particulate matter and of cadmium, lead and mercury applicable for certain combustion and other industrial emission sources that release them into the atmosphere. The emission source categories for the 3 heavy metals were also extended to the production of silico- and ferromanganese alloys, thus expanding the scope of industrial activities for which emission limits are established.
The 1998 protocol on persistent organic pollutants, whose ultimate objective is to eliminate any discharges, emissions and losses of such pollutants. The protocol bans the production and use of some products outright, while others were scheduled for elimination at a later stage. It includes provisions for dealing with the wastes of products that are banned and obliges parties to reduce their emissions of dioxins, furans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and hexachlorobenzene (HCB) below their levels in 1990 (or an alternative year between 1985 and 1995).
For the incineration of municipal, hazardous and medical waste, it lays down specific limit values. It initially focused on a list of 16 substances that had been singled out according to agreed risk criteria. The substances comprised 11 pesticides, two industrial chemicals and three by-products/contaminants. The protocol was amended in 2009 to include 7 new substances: hexachlorobutadiene, octabromodiphenyl ether, pentachlorobenzene, pentabromodiphenyl ether, perfluorooctane sulfonates, polychlorinated naphthalenes and short-chain chlorinated paraffins. The parties revised obligations for the compounds DDT, heptachlor, HCB and PCBs, as well as for ELVs from waste incineration. To facilitate the protocol’s ratification by countries with economies in transition, the parties introduced flexibility for these countries regarding the time frames for the application of ELVs and BATs.
The 1999 protocol to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone (Gothenburg Protocol): it sets national emission ceilings for 2010 up to 2020 for 4 pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), NOx, VOCs and NH3. It also sets tight limit values for specific emission sources (e.g. combustion plant, electricity production, dry cleaning, cars and lorries) and requires BATs to be used to keep emissions down. VOCs emissions from such products as paints or aerosols also have to be cut, and farmers are obliged to take specific measures to control NH3 emissions.
The protocol was amended in 2012 to include national emission-reduction commitments to be achieved by 2020 and beyond (these amendments were ratified by the EU in Council Decision (EU) 2017/1757). Several of the protocol’s technical annexes were revised with updated sets of ELVs for both key stationary sources and mobile sources. The revised protocol is the first binding agreement to include emission-reduction commitments for fine particulate matter. The amended protocol also specifically includes the short-lived climate pollutant black carbon (soot) as a component of particular matter. Reducing particulate matter (including black carbon) through the implementation of the protocol will reduce air pollution, while at the same time facilitate climate co-benefits.
The convention requires its contracting parties to develop and implement appropriate policies and strategies, particularly systems of air quality management.
The contracting parties agree to meet regularly (at least annually) to assess progress made and liaise on matters relating to the convention.
The parties agree to carry out concerted research and development efforts, particularly to reduce emissions of major air pollutants, for monitoring and measuring their emission rates and concentrations, as well as to gain an understanding of their effects on health and the environment.
Exchange of information
The parties agree to exchange information, in particular on data regarding:
the emission of major air pollutants (starting with SO2) and their effects;
aspects likely to cause significant changes in long-range transboundary air pollution (particularly in national policies and industrial development);
control technologies for reducing air pollution; and
national policies and strategies to combat the major air pollutants.
Cooperation on monitoring pollution
The parties agree to participate in the cooperative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe (EMEP). This programme, whose activities are financed under a separate protocol (EMEP Protocol), aims to provide parties to the convention with:
scientific information regarding monitoring of the atmosphere, computer-based models;
the assessment of emissions; and
the development of projections.
In order for this cooperation to succeed, the convention allows for:
the programme, initially focused on monitoring SO2 and related substances, to be extended to other major air pollutants;
the monitoring of the composition of media susceptible to contamination by these pollutants (water, soil and vegetation) as well as the effects on health and the environment;
the generation of meteorological and other scientific data relating to processes during transmission;
the use, whenever possible, of comparable or standardised monitoring and modelling methods;
the integration of EMEP into relevant national and international programmes;
the regular exchange of data obtained by monitoring.
Application & Background
The convention entered into force on 16 March 1983, 90 days after the date of deposit of the 24th instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.
The Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution establishes a system allowing governments to work together with the aim of protecting health and the environment from air pollution that is liable to affect several countries. The convention was signed in 1979 in Geneva within the framework of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and entered into force in 1983.
For more information, see Environmental policy (UNECE).
Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution — Resolution on long-range transboundary air pollution (OJ L 171, 27.6.1981, pp. 13-24)
Council Decision 81/462/EEC of 11 June 1981 on the conclusion of the Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution (OJ L 171, 27.6.1981, pp. 11-12)
Council Decision (EU) 2017/1757 of 17 July 2017 on the acceptance on behalf of the European Union of an Amendment to the 1999 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-Level Ozone (OJ L 248, 27.9.2017, pp. 3-75)
Council Decision (EU) 2016/768 of 21 April 2016 on the acceptance of the Amendments to the 1998 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Heavy Metals (OJ L 127, of 18.5.2016, pp. 8-20)
Council Decision (EU) 2016/769 of 21 April 2016 on the acceptance of the Amendments to the 1998 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants (OJ L 127, 18.5.2016, pp. 21-31)
Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) (OJ L 334, 17.12.2010, pp. 17-119)
Successive amendments to Directive 2010/75/EU have been incorporated into the original document. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.
Council Decision 2004/259/EC of 19 February 2004 concerning the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants (OJ L 81, 19.3.2004, pp. 35-36)
Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants (OJ L 81, 19.3.2004, pp. 37-71)
Council Decision 2003/507/EC of 13 June 2003 on the accession of the European Community, to the Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-Level Ozone (OJ L 179, 17.7.2003, pp. 1-2)
Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone (OJ L 179, 17.7.2003, pp. 3-54)
Council Decision 2001/379/EC of 4 April 2001 on the approval, on behalf of the European Community, of the protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution on heavy metals (OJ L 134, 17.5.2001, p. 40)
Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution on Heavy Metals (OJ L 134, 17.5.2001, pp. 41-64)
Council Decision 98/686/EC of 23 March 1998 on the conclusion by the European Community of the Protocol to the 1979 Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution on further reductions of sulphur emissions (OJ L 326, 3.12.1998, p. 34)
Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on further reduction of sulphur emissions (OJ L 326, 3.12.1998, pp. 35-56)
Council Decision 93/361/EEC of 17 May 1993 on the accession of the Community to the protocol to the 1979 Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution concerning the control of emissions of nitrogen oxides or their transboundary fluxes (OJ L 149, 21.6.1993, pp. 14-15)
Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution concerning the control of emissions of nitrogen oxides or their transboundary fluxes (OJ L 149, 21.6.1993, pp. 16-26)
Council Decision 86/277/EEC of 12 June 1986 on the conclusion of the Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on long-term financing of the cooperative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe (EMEP) (OJ L 181, 4.7.1986, p. 1)
Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on long-term financing of the cooperative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe (EMEP) (OJ L 181, 4.7.1986, pp. 2-5)
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