Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution

In the international context, the EU Member States work closely together with other UNECE member countries to control international air pollution under the UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (the Air Convention). The Air Convention was adopted in 1979 and celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2019.

Within the Air Convention framework, a number of task forces, centres and International Cooperative Programmes provide research, scientific assessments and dialogue on the common knowledge base on air quality issues.

The Air Convention has been extended by eight Protocols. The European Union is party to seven of these Protocols. Notably, the original Gothenburg protocol was agreed in November 1999 and formed the basis for the original NEC Directive 2001/81/EC. The protocol was revised in 2012 and the reduction commitments established for 2020 for the EU and its Member States have been transposed into EU law by the new Directive on National Emission Reductions (Directive 2016/2284/EU). The amended protocol was ratified by Council Decision (EU) 2017/1757 in follow-up to the Commission Clean Air Policy Package.

The EU continues to work closely with the Air Convention to encourage ratification and implementation of the revised Protocol by the broadest range of parties, and to pursue further work on key areas such as Black Carbon and intercontinental transport of air pollution.

See also here for more information on the underlying assumptions for the Commission’s proposal for the NEC directive linked to the Gothenburg protocol.


The European Commission and the EU Member States participated actively in the work on UN Environmental Assembly resolution UNEP/EA.3/Res.8 (December 2017) on  Preventing and reducing air pollution to improve air quality globally.

Within the UN Environmental Programme, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, adopted on 22 May 2001, also provides a complementing international framework of relevance for EU air quality.

UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Several of the UN SDGs are directly or indirectly linked to improvements in air quality. Notably:

  • Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
    • By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality
  • Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
    • By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination
    • Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks
  • Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all
    • By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
  • Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
    • By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology
  • Goal 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
    • Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead
  • Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
    • By 2030, upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes, with all countries taking action in accordance with their respective capabilities
  • Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
    • Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage
    • By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
  • Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
    • By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimise their adverse impacts on human health and the environment
  • Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources
    • By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
    • Minimise and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels
  • Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss
    • Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species