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Conference on Critrical Loads, Copenhagen 21 - 25 November 1999

Press information

Risk of diversity loss in European ecosystems

The use of science based reduction targets has helped in producing remarkable reductions in air pollution loads in Europe and Northern America. Detecting recovery from acidification and euthophication in forests and nature is therefore increasingly important, needs good quality and representative methods and data. These requirements would be even more important, once a new multi-effect, multi-pollutant protocol, expected to be signed in Gothenburg, Sweden next week, is implemented.

The acidification and eutrophication of forests, lakes and nature areas were one of the main issues addressed at the Critical Load Conference, held under the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution from 21st to 25th November in Copenhagen, Denmark. Scientists, administrators and experts from North American and European countries were assembled to review the present knowledge and to develop further the methods for assessing the impact of air pollution on the environment.

The Danish Minister of Environment and Energy, Mr. Svend Auken stressed in his opening address that politicians need indicators and early warnings of any adverse environmental changes. He pointed to the precautionary principle as being fundamental to Danish Environmental Policy. "To act from precaution, you need faith in science, which makes the basis for sound control measures" the Minister noted.

The conference was organised by the Danish National Environmental Research Institute. Director of Research Dr. Hans Løkke, outlined the objectives of the conference: to undertake a comprehensive review of methodologies already applied and/or under consideration for calculating the critical loads for acidification and eutrophication. Leading experts presented and discussed methods and theories and made suggestions for new approaches.

The discussion was mainly focused on the links between the deposition of pollutants and their effects. In particular, an assessment of expected recovery of ecosystem, following emission reductions, will be an important issue in the future. Such recovery has already been seen for some acidified, freshwater lakes in Northern Europe and America. For forests and some terrestrial ecosystems, recovery may not be seen for decades; for sensitive ecosystems recovery may not be seen in foreseeable time.

The importance of the Conference was underlined by the fact that it was held the week before expected signature of a new protocol to abate acidification, eutrophication, and ground level ozone.

The participants of the Conference:

  • Noted the important results of ongoing activities on calculating and mapping critical loads and their substantial contribution to the development and implementation of air pollution control measures under the Convention;
  • Suggested a shift in emphasis to identify recovery following decrease in transboundary air pollution;
  • Identified the need to pay more attention to nitrogen processes in terrestrial and aquatic systems because nitrogen load will still be exceeded in widespread areas of Europe;
  • Noted the need to bring together more data to describe natural variability across Europe and North America, and to improve accessability;
  • Recommended further scientific work and monitoring to improve methodologies and data for assessing the status of terrestrial ecosystems, soils, freshwaters and ground water, in particular in relation to their protection from acidifying and eutrophying pollution.

The participants of the Conference recommended further research and development to better understand the dynamics and recovery of ecosystems, to assess uncertainties and to increase the harmonisation of international monitoring of the environment and the representativeness of its results.



Dr. Hans Løkke
Member of the Working Group on Effects under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution
Director of the Department of Terrestrial Ecology
National Environmental Research Institute
Phone: +45 89 20 14 00
Fax: +45 89 20 14 14

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