Launched in 2011, the Air Quality Governance (Air-Q-Gov) project is one of a series of regional governance projects funded by the European Commission to improve environmental governance in six countries in Eastern Europe and Caucasus, plus Russia.

The European Neighbourhood Policy Strategy Paper clearly explains the reasoning behind the project: environmental pollution does not respect borders and is therefore best addressed through a mix of international, regional and national actions.

Air-Q-Gov’s objective is therefore to engage the partner countries through a series of trainings, workshops and studies over a span of four years, to reinforce the countries’ legal framework and human capacities, thereby facilitating greater convergence to crucial EU legal requirements in the field of air pollution.

Background

As one of the major threats to human health and the environment, air pollution containing fine particulate matter from mobile and non-mobile sources is a universal problem, although it is particularly severe in industrial countries.

Since the 1970s, several international conventions and protocols have been launched by a wide range of actors to tackle the threat to the sustainable development of these countries. Among them is the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), which came into force in 1983 and which is governed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

CLTRAP is the main platform used to support the ENPI East countries to limit, reduce and prevent their emissions by implementing the convention’s eight protocols. The European Union also adopted several directives and regulations to improve environmental governance and compel the EU28 countries to respect the laws aimed at reducing air pollution.

Such regulations include the Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, Directive 98/70/EC relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels, and Directive 2003/87/EC scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading. As previously noted, however, air pollution is not constrained by political boundaries, meaning the scope of these EU Directives is intended to go beyond the borders of the European Union to provide its Eastern neighbours a model for assessment and management of air quality.

Across the region, people are exposed to levels of air pollution that exceed the air quality standards set by the EU and recommended by the World Health Organization. When the project was first designed in 2009, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) analyses indicated that 47 million Russians were exposed to NO2 concentrations that were double the WHO guideline level, and the Azerbaijan authorities reported that 27% of monitored samples breached the set limits.

Whereas transport is responsible for the majority of air pollution in Armenia and Moldova, industrial activities are the main sources of emission in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. In capital cities of all of the partner countries, transport has become the dominant source of air pollutants, as it now accounts for more than 80% of all air pollution.

This critical situation called for targeted assistance from the EU to support its eastern partners to build effective air quality governance in their respective countries. All of them have expressed their willingness to prepare themselves for the ratification of the three last amended CLRTAP protocols (namely Gothenburg, HMs, POPs) and concur with the EU standards in terms of Emission Limit Values (ELV) and Best Available Techniques (BAT).

To this end and in line with the Eastern Partnership Initiative’s objectives, the Air-Q-Gov project was designed to provide systemic support to the partner countries in order to converge with, and introduce the legal and organisational requirements of European legislation and the CLRTAP into their national policies and regulations.

A regional and systemic approach

The Air-Q-Gov supports the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine to help tackle the challenges they face due to increased air pollutants emissions. It also supports cooperation between key stakeholders in the region and helps raise public awareness regarding air quality issues.

The chosen approach combines legislative support, institutional reinforcement and capacity building to impact the legislative framework, to put in place and enhance effective monitoring and assessment networks, and to provide national and local strategies with information on the impact of selected measures on air quality.

The project offers a wide range of activities based around three critical components in the fight against air pollution:

1. The air quality management systems, which entail technical assistance for the improvement of national legal frameworks, as well as trainings on emission inventories, modelling of air pollution scenarios and planning.

The project initially reviewed the air quality assessment and management systems in the partner countries, and compared them to those implemented at EU level to identify major gaps and differences. This gap analysis enabled the project to build a tailored training programme focused on both operational (EMEP/EEA air pollution emission inventory guidebook, COPERT4 software) and legislative aspects.

The Air Quality Departments of the Ministries of Environment were examined on operational issues, specifically the way in which their air quality assessment and management systems were being utilised in each partner country. Ministries were then provided with a selection of targeted trainings to improve their ability to manage data exchange activities relating to air pollution, and – using data exchange tools – also air quality monitoring data, emission inventories and activity data in the framework of the ENPI SEIS project.

Parallel to these broad capacity building initiatives, two main studies are being developed, the first of which deals with providing tools for policy makers offering incentives to improve environmental behaviour, and the other with developing a mechanism to account for local conditions and capacity for setting emission limit values.

By mobilising experts for the design of draft laws, as was successfully done in Ukraine, this first component also contributes by providing country specific support. In fact, by early 2013 Ukraine’s Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources submitted a draft law on ozone protection, which was prepared with the support of the Air-Q-Gov project. The draft law is currently being vetted by the Ukrainian cabinet among key senior ministries and, if passed, it will advance Ukraine’s ability to comply with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

In Azerbaijan, the Parliamentary Committee on Environment is revising its proposed draft law on Environmental Impact Assessment. They are also coordinating their proposals with the progress of recommendations emerging from the implementation of the national pilot project devoted to improvement of legislation on assessment and management of ambient air.

Similar impacts were observed in Belarus, where the results of the national pilot project will now be directly submitted to parliament as a package of regulations supporting the implementation of recently developed IPPC (integrated pollution prevention and control) legislation.

In Moldova, the Ministry of Environment created a working group in 2013 to develop a broad strategy on air quality and a draft law on air protection. Through the Air-Q-Gov, additional input was provided for this initiative using a product from a regional pilot project – the National Action Plan. It acts as a planning tool that sets the specific short and long term goals, delivers detailed descriptions of activities and tasks of respective authorities to ratify and implement the CLRTAP protocols, and provides a schedule and a budget for the implementation of actions. Air-Q-Gov is currently exploring ways to expand this result to benefit Moldova in the development of a broader strategy.

2. The introduction of an IPPC approach in the industrial sector. This second component is dedicated to providing support towards the implementation of an integrated approach to permitting, as well as the implementing Best Available Techniques (BAT) and best practises for selected industrial sectors.

Under this umbrella, several recommendations on environmental permitting have been developed to provide tools for the partner countries to strengthen – if not to create – the whole system, enabling them to launch and apply an integrated permitting approach.

A cycle of five seminars was scheduled over the past two years, and started with the review of the current status of permitting systems and their correspondence to the environmental acquis, which targets the permitting departments and inspectorates dealing with industrial pollution.

In October 2013, the team shared a comprehensive set of recommendations with the participants in Kyiv, including recommendations for an integrated permitting and registration procedure, General Binding Rules (GBR) for the permitting system legislation, as well as the introduction of several governmental organisations: a specialised environmental permitting department, integrated permitting authorities and registration authorities, an integrated inspection authority, a BAT support body and a GBR permitting authority.

Most recently the Ukrainian Ministry also prepared a draft decree for the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, on the establishment of a uniform permitting procedure for air emissions of pollutants by economic enterprises. The draft decree sets a unified procedure for obtaining industrial permits, which eliminates existing gaps and addresses competing jurisdictional issues of state accounting in the field of air quality protection, with consideration of European BAT recommendations for specific economic sectors.

Once implemented, the new system will function as a ‘one window’ permitting process, very similar to the ones currently in use by the EU. Based on the experience of developed countries, it can be expected that this system will reduce corruption and red tape in the permitting system, resulting in greater efficiency for the industrial community and the economy as a whole.

As part of this activity, an ongoing effort has been deployed to collect and translate databases of European BAT reference documents and sectorial regulations into Russian.

3. The introduction of transport related emission standards and the development of mechanisms to encourage the use of public transport. Mobile sources of pollution are responsible for more than 80% of the pollution in partner countries’ capital cities, making transport a cornerstone in the efforts to address air pollution issues in these countries.

Air-Q-Gov first elaborated a comprehensive convergence table showing the compliance of national transport legislation together with recommendations on the further adaptation of national legislation to that of the EC. Using software developed by the EU designed to calculate air pollutant and greenhouse gas emission from road transport, the project mobilised a team of local experts to develop emission inventories of the transportation sector of the countries. Trainings for the use of this software were also provided to national and local authorities, with the aim of improving their transport strategy and helping mainstream environmental requirements in programmatic documents (urban and transport strategy).

While there was a general benefit derived from the introduction of this software in the region, this was particularly noticeable in Azerbaijan, Moldova and Georgia, where the concentrated trainings and follow-up consultations resulted in these countries acquiring a level of proficiency in the calculation of road transport emissions which did not exist prior to project involvement.

To increase the operational capacities in the partner countries, a specific pilot project has been launched with the goal of implementing parts of the Integrated Air Pollution Forecasting and Management System ‘THOR’ in a pilot city in each of the participating partner countries.

For the transport sector, a structured and detailed description of economic instruments was developed, which includes a detailed list of best practises (city by-passes, ITS, telematics, parking policy) in major cities both inside and outside of Europe, that are most suitable for partner countries to emulate.

A user friendly handbook for policy makers (national and municipal authorities) on possible economic instruments to promote public transportation, effective parking policy, limit HDV traffic in cities is currently being prepared for publication.

All the reports produced by the project can be downloaded on www.airgovernance.eu.

Published: 27th Feb 2014 in AWE International