An Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) report published in September this year has recommended a blend of technology and policy options to tackle UK air pollution, including Clean Air zones (CAZs), fuel taxation, greater uptake of cleaner vehicles and other measures such as indicator boards displaying real time air pollution data.

Air pollution still represents a major challenge for regulators, industry and the public in the UK

Air pollution still represents a major challenge for regulators, industry and the public in the UK despite improvements as a result of emissions control technology, the phasing out of domestic coal burning and what the report calls “de-industrialisation”. In the mid 1990s there was an expectation amongst experts that air quality targets for PM10 (particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometres in size) would be met by 2005 and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) limits would be met by 2010.

Targets for PM10 have been met in many areas in the UK, however there are concerns that the European Union (EU) limits have not kept pace with the latest scientific research into the health effects of PM10 and PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in size). In terms of NO2, the concentrations are typically above EU limits in 31 areas.

Environmental Consultancy Temple Group undertook modelling of air quality improvements that could be achieved by five technologies, including those that reduce overall source pollution and those that reduce pollution once it has been emitted from a source. The five technologies were:

  • electric vehicles-replacing 300,000 diesel vehicles with electric vehicles (earmarked by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership Roadmap)
  • Euro 6 diesels-replacing 90,000 old diesel vehicles with new Euro 6C vehicles in 2018/19
  • retrofitting buses-10,000 old buses outside London retrofitted with DPF (diesel particulate filter) and SCR (selective catalyst reduction) technology
  • renewable diesel-3,000 electricity generators on urban construction sites swapped red diesel for renewable diesel
  • photo-catalytic treatment-applied to 200 km of the most heavily polluted roads.

The results of the Temple Group modelling showed that electric vehicles have a medium to long term role to play with respect to controlling air pollution and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, however, in the short term they are an expensive way to improve air quality. In addition, a range of more cost effective technologies capable of being deployed within 2-3 years could make demonstrable urban air quality improvements.

While each of those technologies had strengths and weaknesses with respect to sources to target and the extent to which they can contribute to reducing CO2 emissions, the report suggested that based on the results, a flexible approach was needed in terms of how technologies were applied and combined to maximise their impact on the air quality and their cost effectiveness.

The first recommendation of the EIC report was the establishment of Clean Air zones and that they collaborate with the Government and local authorities on the framework and national standards on which they will be based. Secondly, the planned reduction of the LPG duty differential should be reviewed and future changes in the taxation of fuel should take the impacts of both local air pollution and CO2 emissions into account. In terms of older vehicles, the report recommended that owners of Euro 4 and older diesels should be incentivised to scrap and replace them with new Euro 6C (once introduced) or LPG vehicles. Government vehicle procurement standards should include alternative fuel technologies, and drivers of diesel black cabs should be incentivised to convert them to LPG.

With respect to non-road mobile machinery, the report recommended that the London registration scheme be enforced and extended to include alternative and duel fuel options (if they can deliver similar improvements to retrofit options). In addition, the scheme should be rolled out in other UK cities.

Innovation also plays an important role according to the EIC report. Investments in developing zero emission vehicles (e.g. electric) should be balanced with funding for trials of innovative technologies that can realise cost effective air quality improvements such as the application of photo-catalytic surface treatments to roads and/or pavements.

In terms of what the report called “other measures”, the first was that a statutory Air Quality Committee that is independent of Government be established and report annually on progress in meeting limits and the effectiveness of Government policies. Indicator boards displaying real time air pollution data (and EU limits) should be constructed in major urban centres and transport planning should encourage walking, cycling and public transport. Lastly, in areas where roads traverse Air Quality Management Areas or the new Clean Air zones, dual carriageway speed limits should be reduced to 100 km/h. Air Quality Management Areas are declared by local authorities in areas that aren’t likely to meet UK national air quality objectives. A local Air Quality Action Plan must then be prepared by that local authority.

See the EIC report here


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