Gothenburg Protocol on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution

The 1999 Gothenburg Protocol aims to improve air quality across borders. It is a protocol to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and specifically addresses the abatement of acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone. The protocol defined emission ceilings, technical standards for reducing air pollutant emissions, and emission limit values for technical facilities to be met by 2010.

The protocol was revised in 2012. As part of this revision, emission reduction targets were set for the period from 2020. These targets concern the following pollutants that pose problems for ecosystems and human health in particular: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and now also fine dust, which can enter the lungs (PM2.5). Compared to 2005, the emission reduction targets for Europe are 58% for SO2, 42% for NOx, 6% for NH3, 28% for VOCs and 22% for PM2.5.

As knowledge and technology evolve, so do requirements

In addition to these reduction targets, the revision has adjusted the requirements so they correspond to the current state of knowledge and technology. It addresses emissions from industrial facilities, the use of organic solvents, exhaust from motor vehicles and machinery, and ammonia emissions generated by animals in agriculture. The targets and requirements of the revised protocol are in line with Swiss environmental law, in particular the Ordinance on Air Pollution Control, the Federal Council's policies on air pollution, and agricultural policy objectives.

In addition to Switzerland, more than 20 countries, including the US and Canada, have adopted the revised protocol; it has also been adopted by the EU. It took effect in Switzerland on 22 October 2019 (three months after the instrument of ratification was deposited with the UN Secretariat).

With the revision of Gothenburg Protocol, exposure to air pollutants should continue to decrease. This will have a positive impact on people's health and on the environment. Being located in the middle of Europe, Switzerland will benefit directly from improvements in air quality in EU countries. 

Review relating to the revised protocol

A review conducted in connection with the revision of the protocol revealed that regulated air pollutant emissions have decreased significantly over the last 20 years; it also showed that the reduction commitments for 2020 were met. The review also found that human health and ecosystems are not yet sufficiently protected, in particular when it comes to fine dust, ground-level ozone or nitrogenous air pollutants. Further measures to reduce emissions are necessary.

Last modification 05.06.2023

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