Defra’s reporting of air quality and emissions data criticised in report

Defra’s reporting of air quality and emissions data has been criticised by the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), who said they need to do more to present a more ‘coherent’ picture of air pollution to the public.

OSR, who provides independent regulation of all official statistics produced by UK government departments, looked at the way Defra presents its data through the websites UK Air Information Resource (UK-AIR) and the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) as well as its air quality bulletins.

While the report credits Defra for using ‘rigorous and robust’ quality assurance procedures alongside Ricardo when measuring air quality, it says much more can be done to provide a better insight into its statistics, which it says can be confusing and hard to follow.

Defra publishes both air quality and emissions data but the report says they should do more to highlight the relationship between the two by integrating both sets of statistics ‘as far as possible’, adding that they should explain the purpose of each set of statistics and should cross-reference them to give a clear narrative of how they are linked.

The report also says the air quality and emissions statistics team needs to engage ‘more directly and proactively’ with the users of the statistics so they can develop a better understanding of their needs.

Simon Birkett, director of Clean Air In London, gave evidence to the OS for the report. He said: ‘We now need effective air pollution warnings from Defra, Public Health England and the Met Office.’

The report said the statistics bulletins for air quality and emissions generally presented a ‘good overview of the main trends’. However, Defra should improve them for clarity and insight.

It says emissions statistics bulletins include data on both short- and long-term trends but it can be hard for users to interpret recent changes in emissions.

To help users understand how recent policy interventions may have affected emissions, the OSR also says Defra should make short-term trends clearer in the commentary and the accompanying visualisations.

A Defra spokesperson told AirQualityNews: ‘We know how important our statistics are to ensure accurate monitoring of the nation’s environment and we work regularly with the UK Statistics Authority to ensure they are of the highest standards possible.

‘The report found that our statistics are of high quality, are trustworthy and are valued by users.

‘We recognise we can always improve our statistics and will work with the Office for Statistics Regulation, users and stakeholders to implement the requirements and recommendations of this report.’

Read the OSR report here.

Photo Credit – Defra