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Clean air protocol enforced

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Emissions at a manufacturing complex in Toronto, Canada. UN photo

European and North American countries will take a major stride in cleaning up the atmosphere through the implementation of an amended legally binding treaty to limit the amount of emissions polluting the air.

With 18 countries and the European Union now having ratified the amended treaty, from a total of 51 who have signed, including many of the countries which are part of the United Nations (UN) Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the official entry into force marks an important step to curb pollutants closely-linked to climate change, ecosystem degeneration, and potentially life-threatening human health.

The Gothenburg Protocol, established back in 1999, sets forth legally-binding emissions reduction commitments for 2020 and beyond, for major air pollutants, and is rooted in the UNECE’s 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), originally intended to stop the occurrence of acid rain.

Beyond targeting well-known air pollutants, the Protocol was updated in 2012 to include reduction of fine particulate matter, pollutants shown to cause devastating climate change effects over short periods of time.

UN experts have deemed air pollution a human rights violation — a deadly, man-made problem responsible for some seven million premature deaths, every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The agency has said toxic air is “the world’s largest single environmental health risk” and a leading cause of death by cancer.
The Protocol sets emission ceilings for major polluters: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5), shown to damage human health.

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