Tackling the UK's air quality crisis
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee chair Neil Parish MP joined stakeholders from the energy sector including Calor Gas, to discuss the questions of improving UK air quality and reducing emissions.
Chair of Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee Neil Parish MP said that at least 40,000 deaths per year in the UK are linked to air pollution and air quality prompting his committee to look into this critical issue.
The committee’s report on the matter found a “need to reduce emissions in industry”. It also identified 40 “air pollution hot spots” in cities across the UK.
Mr Parish called for the Government to contemplate tax breaks for greener and cleaner vehicles, or introduce a scrappage scheme for the oldest and most polluting diesel vehicles.
He congratulated the commercial vehicle drivers and hauliers who already used fuel with Adblue in it to reduce harmful particulates getting into the atmosphere. However, not enough vehicles had adopted this cleaner fuel alternative, so air quality was still poor in the most deprived and run down parts of inner cities which tended to be in the 40 hot spots.
Parish flagged the growing numbers of hybrid cars in the UK. He urged taxis and buses to look to this model to reduce their emissions and encouraged the Government to offer “both carrots and sticks” incentives to tackle this issue.
Paul Blacklock from Calor Gas backed Mr Parish’s call to update the taxi fleet in London which has 22,000 vehicles to ensure these are as clean as possible. Off the back of the existing DfT funded project in Birmingham which converts existing diesel taxis to LPG – saving carbon, improving air quality and reducing running costs.
Parish called on industry - especially the agricultural sector - to reduce their emissions and adding: “Industry needs to be given incentives to move to a carbon neutral system”.
Janine Freeman from UK Power Reserve said air pollution cannot be attributed to one industry and that “it needs to be tackled across many industries”.
Freeman noted a considerable improvement in the small power stations constructed by the UK Power Reserve, required to meet sporadic energy demand when clean energy sources like wind and solar are not plentiful. Five years ago she said these plants were diesel driven, but now they are powered by cleaner gas technologies and even cheaper to build and maintain.
Freeman called for policy stability to ensure investors could get a return from their investments, which often takes as long as 40 years. She also called for “whole system thinking: joining up heat, power and transport schemes.”
She touched on the issue of Brexit, noting that it presented “some risk” but concluded that, “all parties have stuck to the direction of travel – decarbonisation”.
Paul Blacklock from Calor Gas said that whilst 75% of Calor’s business is supplying gas to people and businesses in the countryside, a lot of the remaining 25% was transport, hence the interest in air quality.
He said that whilst there are clear targets on climate change under the 2008 Act and detailed 2050 targets, the air quality problem needs solving “now”.
Blacklock quoted a recent statistic issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which stated that 90% of people in the UK are breathing unclean air according to WHO limits.He concluded that whilst city clean air zones were important to improve air quality in cities like London, Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool, that there needed to be a standardised approach across the cities so that industry could provide solutions.
Michael Lunn from the Environmental Industries Commission said that more needs to be done to educate children “so they understand air pollution and can bring these issues back to their families.”
Lunn also called for the construction sector to clean up and modernise the non-road mobile machinery which usually diesel powered, and contributes to nearly 40% of emissions.
He added that the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Clean Air Act could be the opportunity for an updated Act to address the problem of air quality especially in UK cities.
Speakers also raised the question of planting more trees to combat pollution, and of reducing heavy fuel oil where this is still used in whisky production in rural Scotland for example. A panellist referred to the London Mayoral election and argued that Sadiq Khan had won because tackling air quality was his primary campaign priority.
Lunn called for a cross departmental approach in Government to tackle air pollution and improve air quality, not least because of different departmental priorities: “Defra has the will but not the money to tackle this. The Department for Transport has the money, but not the will”
Neil Parish MP concluded that a lot more needs to be done to improve air quality and added that the Government was “literally in the dock on this issue” having been found to have broken air quality regulations and limits following persistent campaigning by environmental groups.
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