Scotland performing well on air quality but ‘work to be done’, review finds

An independent review has concluded that the Scottish government is performing ‘quite well’ in reducing air pollution but work still needs to be done, particularly around under-regulated areas such as domestic wood-burning and agriculture.

The review into Scotland’s 2015 Clean Air For Scotland strategy was ordered last year and chaired by Professor Campbell Gemmell. It found that emissions of most major pollutants continue are continuing to fall since the strategy was published.

However, it says the strategy has an ‘overly complex structure, is not yet wholly implemented or widely understood and has had insufficient authority.’

The review also found ‘serious and particular’ challenges around transport constraints, nitrogen oxides, particulate and ammonia levels (from agriculture), and aspects of public behaviour and perceptions around air pollution which it says need to be tackled.

Whilst a key component of the government’s original strategy was transport and urban air quality, Professor Gemmel says the country must look more closely at how it regulated emissions from domestic wood burners and agriculture, which the review says are significant contributors to air pollution in Scotland.

A major focus of Defra’s Clean Air Strategy, published in January, was wood-burning stoves and agriculture and Professor Gemmel says the Scottish government ‘could and should’ follow the UK’s policy recommendations.

These included banning open bags of ‘wet’ timber sold in petrol stations and new regulations that will require farmers to use low emission farming techniques as well as regulations that will minimise pollution from fertiliser use, including low emissions techniques for spreading slurries and digestate on land such as by injection.

Pollutants in Scotland since 1990. Photo Credit – The Scottish Government

The report also recommends that ‘as a minimum’ the Scottish government complies with international air quality limits, including the World Health Organisation guideline standard for PM2.5 and suggests that any major new development such as a new road or housing development must not lead to a net increase in carbon emissions and must not worsen air quality.

Commenting on the report, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: ‘With Scotland performing well by global standards, it is clear that our current strategy has had a positive impact by raising the profile of air pollution and helping to facilitate constructive stakeholder engagement.

‘So while I welcome this report, I am under no illusions that there is still more to be done as we progress towards our 2020 targets.

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, who sat on the review said: ‘We urge the Scottish Government to take forward the bolder ideas in this review into their revised air quality strategy and wider policy.

‘In particular, we welcome the recognition of the need for strong action to reduce pollution and the call for more research on the health impacts of even low levels of air pollution.

‘The review points the finger of blame for most air pollution problems squarely at road traffic and calls for Low Emission Zones to be up and running faster, for new developments to be refused if they would cause new air pollution problems and for a steep phase-out in building new trunk roads.’

Read the review here.