HC 171 Protecting the Arctic
Letter submitted by Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Defra
Thank you for your letter of 18 April to the Secretary of State about the negotiations on a revised Gothenburg Protocol and the importance of action to tackle black carbon. I am replying as the Minister responsible for air quality policy.
As you know from our response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s follow up report on air quality, the Government is working hard to progress a number of policies aimed at tackling air pollution. This includes agreeing a revised Gothenburg Protocol that will introduce tighter controls on emissions of air pollutants that have adverse effects on human health, natural ecosystems, materials and crops. A key aim of the revision for the UK is to agree an amended Protocol that can be widely ratifi ed by non-EU Parties t hereby reduc ing the transboundary impact of emissions of air pollutants from outside the EU .
The Gothenburg Protocol is a Protocol to the UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution; as such, its primary purpose remains to control and reduce transboundary air pollutants. However, the revised Protocol will, for the first time, introduce an emissions reduction target for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ), and the UK is expected to agree a substantial PM 2.5 reduction target of approximately 30% by 2020 (from a 2005 baseline). As black carbon is a component of particulate matter, reductions in emissions of PM 2.5 will also reduce black carbon. An international assessment of black carbon estimated that emissions from the UK in 2005 were 29 kilotonnes and predicted that these would decrease by approximately 70% by 2020, through implementation of agreed EU and national measures that tackle PM 2.5 . This would include, for example, forthcoming Euro 6/VI emissions standards for road vehicles.
The European Commission, which is negotiating the revised Protocol on behalf of the EU, has from the outset recognised the emerging evidence of black carbon as an air quality pollutant and short-lived climate pollutant based on the Convention’s own assessments and those made by organisations such as UNEP and the Arctic Council. The revised Protocol is expected to highlight the climate co-benefits of reducing black carbon, particularly in the Arctic and Alpine regions; to encourage further research to improve knowledge and understanding of measures to address black carbon; and to support the development of emission inventories for black carbon.
Negotiations have been progressing well and we expect that these objectives will translate into new provisions on black carbon in the revised Protocol. However, it is important to note that the Convention’s Task Force on Health recently recommended that PM 2.5 should continue to be used as the primary metric in quantifying human exposure to particulate matter . PM 2.5 targets will , therefore , remain the driver for delivering the human health objectives of the Protocol.
A further aim of the protocol is to control emissions of precursors of tropospheric ozone, which is harmful to human health, ecosystems and crops. This too will have additional climate benefits as ozone is also a powerful short- lived , climate- forcing gas (SLCF) .
Beyond the Gothenburg Protocol, there is increasing international recognition of the threats posed by black carbon, such as the Nordic Council of Ministers Svalbard Declaration , which states that emissio ns of SLCF s must be reduced. However, the climate benefits of addressing SLCFs must be considered in the context of action to address emissions of all climate forcers, recognising that black carbon’s impact is short-lived and not the primary driver of current and future warming. Defra, the D epartment of E nergy and C limate C hange (DECC) and the D epartment for I nternational D evelopment (DfID) are together considering how best to address SLCFs in the context of achieving ambitious international agreements to address climate change.
I am copying this letter to Gregory Barker and Stephen O’Brien as the Ministers responsible for climate policy in DECC and DfID respectively.
30 April 2012