The UK’s transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions could reduce air pollution in nearly every sector, according to a new report published by the Defra Air Quality Group (AQEG) and researchers at the University of York.
The researchers examined 47 different actions proposed by the Committee on Climate Change to reach net-zero emissions and they highlighted that if policymakers consider air quality in their decisions, air pollution could also be significantly reduced.
Many air pollutants are co-produced alongside greenhouse gases, including fossil fuel electricity production, industrial manufacturing, transportation and agriculture.
However, the researchers have also highlighted that there are some areas where air pollution could be negatively affected by the transition.
Major low-carbon infrastructure projects could create localised pollution during their construction phases, the researchers have highlighted that not all pollutants will fall straight away, some pollutants including fine particulate matter (PM2.5), may not start to fall until later in the transition to net-zero.
Professor Alastair Lewis at the University of York and chair of the UK Government independent science advisory group on air pollution (AQEG) said: ‘During the COVID-19 crisis we’ve seen that having fewer petrol and diesel engines on the roads has dramatically reduced nitrogen dioxide levels in cities around the country.
‘If the national fleet was converted to electric, we would expect to see similar improvements.
‘Air pollution has a complicated range of sources though, and there is no guarantee that all types of pollution will fall together.
‘For example, electric vehicles will still create particle pollution from road surface abrasion and brake wear. Because of that, walking, cycling and public transport remain the cleanest options for transitioning to net-zero emissions.
‘Likewise, widespread improvements in energy efficiency in buildings should reduce the demand for heating, but the health benefits are only fully realised if constructors choose materials that do not adversely affect indoor air quality.’
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