Ahead of the EU’s ‘Year of Air’, figures involved in improving UK air and noise pollution note an increasing prominence of air issues and express their hopes, fears and predictions for air quality in 2013, writes Michael Holder
UK air quality figures are predicting an exciting year ahead, with the EU ‘Year of Air’, UK environmental policy reviews and local authority power cited as key issues for air in 2013.
Various perspectives on 2013 have been collected from air consultants, lawyers and campaigners and are compiled in full below.
Next year marks the EU’s ‘Year of Air’, which will see an increasing prominence given to air quality in Brussels. As part of this, EU air quality policies and legislation are under consultation (see Airqualitynews.com story) and being reviewed with a final report due no later than September 2013.
The UK Government is also looking to reduce bureaucracy in air quality legislation as part of its Red Tape Challenge. As part of this, a consultation on 2013/14 local authority fees and charges for businesses on air pollution control will begin in January (see Airqualitynews.com story).
Air quality is set to be included as an indicator for healthy living by the Department of Health in 2013, which may increase the impetus for local authorities to prioritise air quality in UK towns and cities (see Airqualitynews.com story).
Citing the European Parliament and UK local elections in May 2014, founder and director of Clean Air in London, Simon Birkett, said he had “high hopesâ€? for the year and predicted that air pollution would “become a mainstream issue in 2013â€?.
Geoff Dollard, air and environmental quality practice director at environmental consultancy Ricardo AEA, cited the EU ‘Year of Air’ and the recent 60th anniversary of the London smog as helping to put air quality on the agenda for what he said would be an “interestingâ€? year.
He described 2013 as a “year of reviewâ€?, citing the UK Government’s drive to cut red tape with regards to UK air pollution legislation as well as the EU’s review of its air quality policies.
Roger Barrowcliffe, Clean Air Thinking consultant and chair of the Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM), however, was more skeptical of the impact of reviewing and renewing legislation at EU level. He commented: “why are we putting in place more legislation, when we are still missing current targets?â€?
He added, however, that governments and organisations were perhaps given too much blame for any perceived lack of progress on improving air quality. He said: “we are all responsible for this – we all drive cars and we do not seem to yet be ready to give up the internal combustion engine. Until we do that, there is only so much the Government can really do.â€?
At a local level, several figures noted the importance of issues surrounding local authorities and their impact on air quality in the UK.
Clean air lawyer Alan Andrews, of campaign group ClientEarth, called for “more support from central government for struggling local authoritiesâ€? in 2013, pointing to a lack of council power to reduce air pollution in towns and cities.
With regards to noise pollution in 2013, chair of UK Noise Association John Stewart pointed to the Government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Bill (a draft of which was published on 13 December 2012), which could make it easier to put a stop to noisy neighbours. However, he set his sights on smaller changes, too: “one simple thing could make life so much better in 2013: reduce the number and volume of announcements on London Underground.â€?
It gives an interesting perspective to look ahead to 2013 – from a month which saw the 60th anniversary of the infamous London smog of December 1952. Careful analysis of the air pollution trends and mortality during this and other similar episodes had shown a clear link to mortality. These events shaped the legislation that cleaned up the air in our towns and cities through the Clean Air Acts.
The impact of the legislation was essentially to remove a problem of localised air pollution impacts. The management action focussed of removal of local sources of sulphur emissions (primarily combustion of coal); the subsequent, more centralised production of power with a tall stack policy serving to protect the local environment but contributing to a further impact through the long range transport of pollution – an unintended consequence. It is interesting today – looking ahead to 2013, planned to be -“The Year of Airâ€?- that local pollution in terms of “Hot Spotsâ€? will be very much at the focal point and that unintended consequences of emission controls are again part of the challenge.
Health impacts are still pushing the health agenda and it will be very interesting to see how we progress towards better understanding and actions to improve air quality at the local level. Air quality is set to be included as an indicator for healthy living by the Department of Health in 2013 with upper tier and local authorities from April to provide leadership on public health, how will local authorities react to this? Will they be given more power to deal with air quality?
In many ways, 2013 will almost be characterised as a year of review. With review to improve the effectiveness of measures to reduce environmental impacts and to better understand what a multi-pollutant approach and inclusion of climate change brings in economic and environmental co benefits. As part of the Red Tape Review the Clean Air Acts and other environmental legislation have been scrutinised and we may see new versions in the autumn as the Government seeks to cut down on bureaucracy. The EC’s review of the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution (encompassing the AQ directives and the NECD) will generate action in 2013.
Several Directives are being consolidated, into a single, Industrial Emissions Directive which could have consequences for emissions in Europe. On Eco design – the EC will be working to introduce regulations on minimum performance and Eco labelling on products including: central heating boilers and water heaters as well as local space heaters. Performance requirements include emissions for fuelled appliances which are important sources of PM emissions for the national inventory and so potentially a useful policy tool.
Overall 2013 should be an interesting year of changes in legislation and continuing work to address the challenge of improving health by reducing exposure to key pollutants.
My hopes for 2013 (the EU’s ‘Year of Air’ no less):
The Supreme Court to order the Government to come up with a comprehensive and credible plan to tackle poor air quality by 2015 (see Airqualitynews.com story) . While this would need to focus primarily on NO2 compliance, it would be an opportunity to look more broadly at cutting pollution from diesel vehicles in Britain’s towns and cities.
The Government to play a positive role in Brussels over the negotiations on the “year of airâ€? proposals. Instead of lobbying for weaker air quality standards and “flexibilityâ€? they need to use their political capital to help deliver an ambitious package of legislation to tackle emissions from currently neglected sectors such as agriculture, small-scale combustion and non-road machinery.
More support from central government for struggling local authorities. At the moment the Government is hiding behind its localism agenda and expecting local authorities to come up with the answers, when they lack the policy levers and funds to really tackle poor air quality. Logistical and financial support is badly needed, for example through a national framework of low emission zones, backed by financial incentives for cleaner vehicles and subsidies for retrofits.
Clean Air in London has high hopes for Europe’s ‘Year of Air’ in 2013. We need and should see action and political leadership in four main areas.
First, major efforts to build public understanding of the dangers of air pollution with advice for people on protecting themselves (i.e. adaptation) and reducing pollution for themselves and others (i.e. mitigation) e.g. smog warnings and the first publication of estimates of deaths attributable to long-term exposure to dangerous airborne particles for each local authority in England. Second, new legislation to reduce harmful emissions at their source, particularly carcinogenic diesel exhaust. Third, we need continuity and the further tightening of health and legal protections in any proposals for revised air quality legislation. Last, but not least, we need the European Commission to prioritise infraction action against Member States and cities, like the UK and London, that are breaching legal limits for nitrogen dioxide by a factor of two near their busiest streets.
Air pollution is set to become a mainstream issue in 2013 and in the run up to the European Parliament and local elections in May 2014.
“We in the air quality community are delighted to see renewed interest in our subject, but we would like to see things really improve as a result.â€?
On policy reviews during the EU ‘Year of Air’: “The thing about all these strategies is that they are all very long term, and it is all about five year plans – why are we putting in place more legislation, when we are still missing current targets? London, for instance, is missing many targets on air quality.â€?
On diesel filters and lowering traffic emissions: “With regards to diesel filters and limits on vehicles, we have had successive raising of standards since 1990 and this is a success story of the past. Despite this, there has been no drastic reduction in air pollution. Part of the problem is that real world vehicles react differently and give off different levels of emissions to those being tested with the filters. They (stricter diesel controls) are clearly not the answer.â€?
On improving air quality in the UK: “For some campaigners, the problem of air quality always seems to be because of some external party or the Government doing something. But I have a view that it is far more difficult as we are all responsible for this – we all drive cars and we do not seem to yet be ready to give up the internal combustion engine. Until we do that, there is only so much the Government can really do.â€?
The Government has got the chance to improve the noise climate in 2013. It is looking again at the regulations which allow night flights at the county’s main airports. A great chance to ban flights before 6am! And things could improve for people with noisy neighbours as the Government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Bill will make it easier to crackdown on noise offenders. There is no sign, though, of traffic noise reducing, particularly since the Government is looking to give the go-ahead for more new roads. But one simple thing could make life so much better in 2013: reduce the number and volume of announcements on London Underground.