Defra minister Thérèse Coffey has said that the government is working to tackle air pollution at a national level, but that local action is also needed.
Dr Coffey was quizzed by MPs about Defra’s air quality ambitions at a House of Commons debate last week (3 November).
Asked by Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, “what steps her Department will take to improve air quality after her defeat in the High Court on 2 November?â€? Dr Coffey said improving air quality “is a priority for this Government.â€?
However, the minister failed to commit to a national plan for increased Clean Air Zones, instead emphasising that councils already have funding and schemes in place to improve air quality in their local areas.
“The Transport Act 2000 gave powers to councils to introduce measures to help to tackle air pollution,â€? Dr Coffey said, adding that she will be “writing to councils to ask them what they are doing to tackle air pollution. Our local authority grant fund was launched in early October and we are encouraging all local authorities to apply.â€?
While many MPs called for a national action on tackling air pollution, Dr Coffey stressed that “the government will work on issues to tackle air quality nationally, but we need local action.â€?
Pressed on whether she would “set up a comprehensive plan at a national level, including diesel scrappage schemes, fiscal incentives and urgent investment in research and developmentâ€? to remove the highest polluting vehicles, Dr Coffey said that what is needed is “targeted interventionsâ€? rather than “comprehensive schemes which may not be the best use of taxpayers’ money.â€?
Dr Coffey noted that the government has already achieved “significant improvementsâ€? in air quality but that transport is responsible for 80% of nitrogen oxides emissions. “That is why transport has been the focus of our action on air quality,â€? she said.
“We have committed over £2 billion in green transport initiatives, including supporting the early market for ultra-low emission vehicles between 2015 and 2020.
“The main reason for the difficulty in meeting NO2 limit values is the failure of Euro standards for diesel vehicles to deliver the expected reduction in NOx emissions in real-world conditions. Since 2011, we have been at the forefront of action in the EU to secure more accurate, real-world emissions testing for diesel cars.â€?
Commenting on the Government’s defeat in last week’s High Court ruling on air pollution (see AirQualityNews.com story), Dr Coffey said: “Our plan was based on the best available evidence at the time. We have been pressing for updates to COPERT—computer programme to calculate emissions from road transport—emission factors and got them in September.
“We said that when we got the new factors we would update our modelling and that is exactly what we are doing.â€?
She added: “We accept the judgment of the court and will now carefully consider it, and our next steps, in detail.â€?
Last week, London’s Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy, Shirley Rodrigues, called on the Government to act on air pollution, including a national diesel scrappage scheme (see AirQualityNews.com).