Defra minister ThÃ©rÃ¨se 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 Defraâ€™s air quality ambitions at a House of Commons debate last week (3 November).
Asked by Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, â€œwhat 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 â€œis 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.
â€œThe 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 â€œwriting 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 â€œthe government will work on issues to tackle air quality nationally, but we need local action.â€
Pressed on whether she would â€œset 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 â€œtargeted interventionsâ€ rather than â€œcomprehensive schemes which may not be the best use of taxpayersâ€™ money.â€
Dr Coffey noted that the government has already achieved â€œsignificant improvementsâ€ in air quality but that transport is responsible for 80% of nitrogen oxides emissions. â€œThat is why transport has been the focus of our action on air quality,â€ she said.
â€œWe have committed over Â£2 billion in green transport initiatives, including supporting the early market for ultra-low emission vehicles between 2015 and 2020.
â€œThe main reason for the difficulty in meeting NO2Â 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 Governmentâ€™s defeat in last weekâ€™s High Court ruling on air pollution (see AirQualityNews.com story), Dr Coffey said: â€œOur plan was based on the best available evidence at the time. We have been pressing for updates to COPERTâ€”computer programme to calculate emissions from road transportâ€”emission factors and got them in September.
â€œWe said that when we got the new factors we would update our modelling and that is exactly what we are doing.â€
She added: â€œWe accept the judgment of the court and will now carefully consider it, and our next steps, in detail.â€
Last week, Londonâ€™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).