B2.1.3 The Gothenburg Protocol


The Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone, known as the Gothenburg Protocol, became effective in May 2005. It is known as the Gothenburg Protocol because it was originally adopted in Gothenburg (Sweden) in 1999.

The Gothenburg Protocol is considered a major step forward in the development of international pollution controls. It set new targets for emission cuts by 2010 for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). For the first time targets were also set for ammonia controls. The protocol also:

  • Sets limits for specific emission sources (e.g. combustion plant, electricity production, dry cleaning and cars).
  • Requires Best Available Techniques (BAT) to be used to reduce emissions.
  • Requires a reduction in VOC emissions (e.g. from paints).
  • Requires farmers will have to control ammonia emissions (e.g. from artificial fertilizer and manure).


The Protocol is a multi pollutant protocol with the aim of reducing acidification through reducing sulphur dioxide and to reduce eutrophication through reducing nitrogen oxide. Reductions in VOC and nitrogen oxide emissions will decrease concentrations of ground-level ozone and the damage they cause to crops, natural vegetation and human health.

Most of the legislative steps required to give effect to the headline obligations of the protocol are met under existing European Community legislation that has been transposed into UK law, notably the National Emission Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC).

The UK reports on its emissions of air quality pollutants annually.


Revisions to the Gothenburg Protocol

A review of the Gothenburg Protocol began at the end of 2007.

It was expected by the end of 2010, but has been significantly delayed. In May 2012 the parties to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), including the EU’s 27 member states and countries in Eastern Europe and North America, met in Geneva in order to arrive at a final agreement on amendments to the Gothenburg Protocol on air pollution.

After five years of negotiations, a revised Gothenburg Protocol was successfully finalised.

While the original protocol set national emission ceilings for 2010 for each pollutant, the revised protocol specifies emission reduction commitments in terms of percentage reductions from base 2005 to 2020. It has also been extended to cover one additional air pollutant, namely particulate matter (PM2.5), and thereby also black carbon as a component of PM2.5.

Most EU member states decided only to accept emission reduction obligations for 2020 that are even less ambitious than, or at best largely in line with, business-as-usual, i.e. reductions expected to be achieved anyway solely by implementing already existing legislation.

Overall, the EU member states’ commitments to the revised protocol mean that they shall jointly cut their emissions of the following from 2005 to 2020:

  • Sulphur dioxide (SO2) by 59 per cent,
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 42 per cent,
  • Ammonia (NH3) by 6 per cent,
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 28 per cent
  • Particulate matter (PM2.5) by 22 per cent.