EU industry calls for caution on air protocol

On eve of UN/ECE emission ceilings talks, Unice warns against "unreasonable" burden on industry

The European industry confederation, Unice, has called on governments not to sign up to tough new national limits on emissions of key air pollutants due to be negotiated in Geneva later this week. Unice claims that a draft of the new protocol under the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) convention on long-range transboundary air pollution is based on unsound calculations and would impose unrealistic demands on industry.

The protocol, known as the multi-effect, multi-pollutant agreement, will be discussed by national environment ministers in Geneva from Thursday. If ministers reach an agreement on the text, it will be formally signed by UN/ECE member countries in Gothenburg, Sweden, in December. A UN/ECE official said he expected between 30 and 35 governments to sign up, including most European countries as well as the USA and Canada. The agreement is very similar to a draft EU directive proposed by the European Commission earlier this year (ENDS Daily 9 June), which would also set national emissions ceilings, to be met by 2010, for four pollutants: sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Both the draft directive and the UN/ECE protocol are based on the same scientific models, which analyse the most effective way of reducing acidification, eutrophication and ozone pollution. Although the draft text of the protocol that will be discussed in Geneva remains confidential, the emissions ceilings for EU countries are believed to be similar to those proposed by the Commission.

Unice says both the UN/ECE draft and the EU Commission proposal demand too much of industry. It wants the emissions ceilings to be set at levels that would ensure countries could comply with existing regulations on air emissions by 2010, rather than having to impose tough new demands. It says that the real-life benefits to the environment should be monitored, rather than relying on models, and that after further analysis, the ceilings could be reviewed later, for example in 2005.

The industry body also attacks measures in the draft UN/ECE protocol that would set emissions limits for individual factories. Within the EU, it claims this is already sufficiently regulated by two laws: the 1996 integrated pollution prevention and control directive and the 1988 large combustion plant directive, which is currently being revised (ENDS Daily 16 July).

The figures that should be agreed at the UN/ECE talks by the end of next week will set the pace for negotiations by the EU institutions on the new directive. The UN/ECE emissions ceilings will effectively be a minimum for the EU, as all 15 member states, as well as the European Commission, are expected to sign up to the protocol, and it is exceedingly unlikely that they would create a directive that was less stringent.

Follow Up:
Unice, tel: +32 2 237 6511; UN/ECE, tel: +41 22 917 4444.

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