UN hosts pan-European air pollution talks

Parties to UN/ECE convention discuss implementation of new protocols, prepare for next steps

A pan-European intergovernmental working group has begun sketching out further cooperative efforts to reduce air pollution during a week of talks held in Geneva, which ended on Friday. The working group on strategies and review under the UN convention on long-range transboundary air pollution (CLRTAP) was meeting for the first time since adoption last year of the Gothenburg protocol aimed at achieving big cuts in acidification, eutrophication and ozone (ENDS Daily 30 November 1999).

Organised through the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE), the working group has now entered a slower phase after negotiating the Gothenburg protocol in 1999 and the Århus protocols on heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in 1998 (ENDS Daily 24 June 1998), its secretary Henning Wuester told ENDS Daily.

A main priority now is implementation of these important new international agreements, which have all still to enter-into-force, Mr Wuester said. So far, the pace of ratifications had been disappointing he added, with only Canada, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Finland so far signed up to the heavy metals protocol and only the first five of these to the POPs instrument. Nevertheless, he continued, faster progress was now expected, and the necessary number of ratifications for entry-into-force could be reached early next year.

Another focus of discussion was fine particulate matter (PM), which could become the next focus of negotiations under the convention, with a four-to-five year time horizon, Mr Wuester said. Similar perspectives on PM science were emerging from Europe and North America, he said, and strong links between PM and types of pollution controlled under the Gothenburg protocol such as low-level ozone were becoming increasingly apparent. What was not yet clear, he stressed, was whether parties would opt to integrate new controls on PM into the Gothenburg protocol or prepare a separate instrument.

Though less politically potent, the earliest actual new negotiations between convention parties could be aimed at regularising funding of international scientific research into pollutant effects, Mr Wuester said. The working group discussed this issue following a call by ministers in the Gothenburg declaration for it to be put on a more stable footing.

Follow Up:
UN/ECE, tel: +41 22 917 4444. See also home page of the CLRTAP and the agenda of the working group's 32nd session. An official report on the meeting is due to be posted soon.

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