Introduction to Climate Change

6. The Convention On Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution

Because of the much larger number of countries sharing airspaces in Europe, a multilateral response to long range air pollution has been virtually inevitable. In Europe, monitoring of SO2 and NOx has occurred since the late 1970s, and beginning in the 1980s Europe has been able to estimate the SO2 and NOx pollution budgets for most countries. Pollution budgets demonstrate whether and to what extent a country is a net importer or exporter of air pollution.

In response to the problem of acid deposition, the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe convened negotiations to develop the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (the LRTAP Convention), 18 I.L.M. 1442 (1979) which entered into force on March 16, 1983. Parties to the agreement include most European countries, as well as Canada and the United States.

LRTAP was the first environmental treaty signed by both the East and West, and may even have assisted in reducing Cold War tensions in Europe. Through its definition of "air pollution," LRTAP was also one of the first pollution related treaties that extended its protection beyond direct human health impacts to ecosystems. The LRTAP Convention applies to all "long range transboundary air pollution" defined in part based on whether sources are so distant "that it is not generally possible to distinguish the contribution of individual emission sources or groups of sources."

If LRTAP were being negotiated today we would label it a "framework" convention. On its face it has relatively weak and general substantive standards, but it arranges for scientific cooperation and coordination; institutionalizes consultation and information exchange between Parties; and perhaps most importantly establishes a cooperative program for monitoring and evaluating air pollutants in Europe (EMEP). Due in large part to the ongoing advances in scientific understanding of air pollutants made through the EMEP program, the UNECE has returned continually to the LRTAP as a framework for the negotiations of specific protocols.