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Working across the environment, transport and energy sectors to improve air quality

Working across the environment, transport and energy sectors to improve air quality

Close cooperation of environment, transport and energy authorities in developing and implementing effective policies can significantly lower emissions of air pollutants leading to improved air quality with resulting benefits for the environment and human health. And such intersectoral cooperation within and across countries and organizations is not an option but a must to implement the complex and ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recently adopted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit. These are the key messages of the roundtable which took place today as part of the 21st session of the UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy.

The discussion among high level panelists featured selected examples of legal and policy measures and economic instruments applied to improve air quality in Belarus, Georgia and the Netherlands and was based on the Environmental Performance Reviews (EPRs) of these countries, conducted in 2015 by UNECE (for Belarus and Georgia) and OECD (for the Netherlands).

In Belarus, from 2009 to 2013, transport sector emissions dropped by 21% despite the 15% increase in the number of vehicles, the 16% growth in consumption of oil fuel and 77% growth in consumption of gas fuel. “Such positive results are the outcomes of systematic policy aimed at renewal of vehicle fleet and improvements in fuel quality”, said Iya Malkina, First Deputy Minister, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus. “To ensure even better results, in 2013 the environmental and transport sectors have jointly developed a Strategy for Reduction of Adverse Impacts of Transport on Atmospheric Air for the Period until 2020. The Strategy and its Action Plan, approved by the Deputy Prime Minister, include activities to further reduce emissions from mobile sources and increase the share of public transport and motor vehicles with improved environmental characteristics,” continued Iya Malkina.


In Georgia, a reduction of SOx emissions in the transport sector is visible in the last years due to newly introduced fuel quality standards. “For the purpose of decreasing emissions from vehicles, amendments were introduced by the Government in the regulations concerning quality standards for petrol and diesel fuel. Based on these changes, sulphur content in petrol was decreased by 3 times in 2015. Starting from 2016, the content of benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons would reach EU standards (1% and 35%, respectively). To reach EU 5 standard for petrol, a final reduction is prescribed in 2017 (sulphur - 10 mg/kg)”, said Ekaterine Grigalava, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection of Georgia. “In the energy sector, Georgia is working to increase the share of renewable energy resources, thereby ensuring its energy security and contributing to global GHG emissions reduction”, continued Ekaterine Grigalava.


In the Netherlands, a decrease of air pollutant emissions has been achieved in recent years in both the energy and transport sectors. Hester de Boer, International Policy Adviser at the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, described the achievements of the ongoing National Air Quality Co-operation Programme – a co-operation effort between the national government and local authorities which targets air pollution emissions in cities and other localities where limit values are exceeded. The Programme resulted in almost €2 billion investments made by both national government and local authorities to reduce background and peak concentrations of air pollution emissions. Such investments were used, for example, to stimulate measures in the agricultural sector through introduction of air scrubbers in stock farms, subsidize the reduction of NOx emissions of inland shipping by introduction of soot filters, introduce measures around highways (dynamic traffic management, speed lowering, etc.) and implement local measures at air pollution hotspots such as restricted access for most polluting vehicles, differentiation of parking fees, expanding paid parking area, driver trainings and other measures.

In a general debate, participants emphasized the crucial role of the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution and its protocols in assisting countries of the region to gradually reduce and prevent air pollution, and stressed the importance of needs-driven technical assistance to the countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, as provided in the Convention’s framework.  

Welcoming the progress achieved in Belarus, Georgia and the Netherlands in addressing air pollution through the joint work of the environment, transport and energy sectors, UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach said: “The third cycle EPRs, conducted by UNECE so far in five countries of the region, clearly demonstrate that progress has been made in the past decade in integrating environmental considerations into sectoral laws and strategic documents. However, challenges remain as the level of such integration varies between the economic sectors in each country and practical implementation often lags behind. Working in an integrated manner towards implementation of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals would be an even greater challenge. At UNECE we are committed to support our Member States in these efforts through our legally binding instruments, norms and standards, policy guidance, review instruments such as EPRs, and other tools.”

Graphs for Belarus: Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus, 2015.
Graph for Georgia: Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection of Georgia, 2015.
Graphs for the Netherlands: prepared by UNECE secretariat on the basis of OECD.Stat ( data.