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EU unblocks international process to improve tracking of industrial pollutants, but access to information is still limited

At the meeting of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on the international pollution data protocol, the EU gave its green light to improve tracking of hazardous emissions – but the battle for better access to pollution information is far from being won, campaigners warn.
Held in Geneva on November 28th and 29th, the meeting gathered the parties of the Kyiv Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, an international agreement aimed at enhancing public access to information through the establishment of coherent, nationwide pollutant release and transfer registers, also called PRTRs. PRTRs provide an inventory of pollution from industrial activities ranging from coal-fired energy generation to waste incineration and intensive agriculture.
The EU delegation, alongside the other parties opened the door to an information exchange on the pollutants and activities covered by the Protocol, as well as on the promotion of pollution prevention techniques.
Aliki Kriekouki, a Senior Policy Officer who represented the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) at the meeting, welcomed the decision as a step forward, while regretting the lack of a solid commitment to strengthen the Protocol: “Public access to information on the emissions that contaminate our air, soil and water is essential to hold industry accountable for polluting activities. What we witnessing here is the risk of a four-year delay in any legally binding improvements to the Protocol.” 
Green groups have long been calling for a review of the protocol, dating back to 2003, to make it more comprehensive and effective at preventing industrial pollution – notably by promoting compliance with legal requirements and the uptake of best available techniques to cut emissions. However, the process has been delayed by the parties, including the EU.
Toxic industrial emissions come at a high human and environmental cost: the impact of polluted air, water and soil on human health is measured in billions of euros each year, causing conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and cancer.
At the EU level, industrial pollution is currently tracked via the EU PRTR and the Industrial Emission Directive registry. However, a EEB report reveals a huge variation in the way how Member States provide information to the public.
Christian Schaible, EEB’s Policy Manager for Industrial Production, said: We need more inclusive and timely involvement of NGOs in the revision of the completely inadequate tools on access to information on industrial activities. The EU PRTR, as well as the IED Registry, must be fundamentally revisited to enable proper benchmarking of the environmental performance of industry, in particular the uptake of pollution prevention techniques.”
ENDS