, Volume 85, Issue 4, pp 2381-2388

The use of critical loads in emission reduction agreements in Europe

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Critical loads have been used in the revision of the Sulphur Protocol of the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE). Critical loads, i.e. maximum allowable depositions which do not increase the probability of damage to forest soils and surface waters, have been computed and mapped for Europe by means of the Steady-state Mass Balance Method, using national data and, if national data were unavailable, using a European database. Results show that areas with low critical loads are located mostly in northern and central Europe. The reduction of the excess of sulfur (S) deposition over critical loads was a starting point for negotiations leading to the Oslo Protocol on Further Reduction of Sulphur Emissions (the “Second Sulphur Protocol”). The new protocol protects about 81%, 86% and 90% of the ecosystems' area in 2000, 2005 and 2010, respectively. In addition, the total European area in which sulphur deposition exceeds critical loads by more than 500 eq ha−1 yr−1 will be reduced from about 19% in 1980 to practically zero in 2010. Besides these results, a methodology is presented which allows the combined assessment of the acidifying effects of S and N as well as the eutrophying effects of N deposition on ecosystems (so-called critical load functions and the protection isolines derived from them). This methodology is well suited to integrate ecosystem sensitivities into future negotiations on the reductions of nitrogen (N) compounds, taking into account present or anticipated S emissions.