The Geneva Convention (WEB) (UN - 1979) on long-range transboundary air pollution (LRTAP) aims to limit air pollution on the European continent with a view to protecting man and his environment.

A convention drawn up under the aegis of UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe), its initial objective was to diminish the effect of acid rain by controlling sulphur emissions. Since then, the convention has been fleshed out by several protocols. Its scope has been expanded to include nitrogen pollutants and photochemical oxides, heavy metals and POPs (persistent organic pollutants (HTML)). 

The latest amendment, the Gothenburg Protocol (1999), aims at significantly reducing sulphur dioxide, ammonia, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (the last two groups of pollutants being those that cause ozone peaks to form).

LRTAP (Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution) has facilitated the collection of numerous data on atmospheric pollutants. It has furthermore promoted the exchange of relevant knowledge and experiences.

Furthermore, in conjunction with the United States, the European Commission has set up a new task force dedicated to atmospheric pollution, governed by the LRTAP Convention.

The European Union has taken the lead. Several European directives thus aim to reduce culprit emissions, notably European Directive 2001/81/EC (.PDF), specifying emission ceilings for some atmospheric pollutants. It obliges Member States to remain within "ceilings", or maximum quantities for certain emissions, including nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. As far as Belgium is concerned, complying with this Directive would entail reducing NOx emissions by some 50% by 2010 and a reduction in VOC emissions by some 60% (compared to 1990).

Each Member State is free to take whatever measures it deems necessary to achieve these objectives. European Directive 2004/42/EC (.PDF) has come into force with the main aim of drastically reducing the solvent content of paints and varnishes.

The “Clean Air For Europe“ (CAFE) programme (WEB) is aimed at achieving satisfactory air quality which no longer has an unacceptable impact on human health and the environment by 2020. The steering committee for this programme consists of representatives of Member States, WHO, various industrial sectors, environmental NGOs and European agencies.

The themed strategies set out the path for achieving these ambitious objectives between now and 2020. The Strategy focuses on 5 priority pollutants that are ozone precursors. The five pollutants are particulates (PM2.5), NH3, NOx, SO2 and volatile organic compounds. The new EC Directive 2008/50/CE (.PDF) adopted in April specifies a threshold particulate value below 2.5 microns in diameter which will become compulsory by 2013.

One of the CAFE programme's principles is ensuring that analyses are based on the best available information. Furthermore, the main evaluation tools are subject to independent critical analysis before being developed and used in studies.