Devolution could improve air quality and cut emissions, report finds

Devolution would help regions in the north cut air pollution and reduce their carbon emissions, according to a new report.

The report, published by researchers at the University of Sheffield Energy Institute, is calling for a programme of devolution to help deliver a complete decarbonisation of local transport and buildings.

Researchers believe an ambitious devolution deal is politically feasible and would bring considerable quality of life benefits for citizens.

Implementing zero-carbon transport and heating sources for homes and buildings in places such as Sheffield would improve people’s quality of life through improved air quality, reduced fuel poverty and fewer winter deaths, according to the report.

In domestic and commercial buildings, the report calls for a ‘step change’ in insulation and a near-total move away from gas as a heating fuel.

For transport, the report calls for significant investment in public transport and greater support for the infrastructure needed to provide alternative fuels such as electricity, hydrogen and biogas.

The report calls for investment to support the introduction of alternative fuels for private vehicles as well as for public and commercial transport.

The authors of the report also highlight how community energy projects can play a key role in reducing emissions. This includes renewable electricity generation and storage, engagement of the public and increased resilience of regional electricity networks in terms of helping to upskill the regional workforce around the need to work with and live within our available resources.

Last month, the government included in the Queen’s Speech plans for a devolution white paper, which they said will ‘unleash’ regional potential.

However, in January they rejected plans for a single devolution deal for the whole of Yorkshire, after claiming the proposals did not meet the necessary criteria.

Dr Alastair Buckley, one of the authors of the report from the University of Sheffield Energy Institute, said: ‘As decarbonisation efforts shift to reducing emissions from buildings and transport, and energy systems become more decentralised, it makes sense that the relevant regulatory powers are devolved to the different regions of the UK.

‘This might include increasing the powers of regional authorities in terms of planning transport and land use, or it might mean allowing regions to borrow money to invest in local energy resources.’

Earlier this year, Air Quality News published a Viewpoint piece from Oliver Harrison, who urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to back devolution.

‘Devolving powers for setting emissions targets and precedents would inform the wider perspective of central government and illustrate the national picture of air quality in more detail,’ he wrote.

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