It’s an unusual perspective, but recent high profile discoveries about the impact of diesel emissions have been good for our health.
For years we lived under the cosy misconception that diesel is good for the environment. That modern engines are efficient and any marginal increase in local pollution would be far outweighed by reductions in CO2.
But in the last year we’ve been shaken awake from that comfortable slumber and people around the world are campaigning to reduce the levels of dangerous pollutants in the air. Research conducted by YouGov and the Clean Air Alliance highlighted that over three quarters of people in UK cities are worried about air quality and want action to be taken.
With such consensus about the need to act, national and local authorities have a once in a generation opportunity to deliver change. Not since the UK introduced its clean air act 60 years ago today have we faced such a challenge or have we been given such a chance to make things better.
One potential fly in the ointment, in the UK at least, is the uncertainty caused by the recent EU referendum. Concern about air quality has grown because of scientific analysis and focussed attention by campaigners. But the impetus for the Government to act and to establish Clean Air Zones across the country has been driven by pressure from the EU.
Air quality in a number of British cities breaches European law and the UK Supreme Court ordered the Government to produce plans to improve the situation. There is now justified concern that without European pressure these plans will wither on the vine as competing priorities battle for Government time and attention. If delay is allowed to creep in, if air quality slips down the agenda while we wait to see how EU negotiations impact the UK, then people living in our polluted cities will pay the price with their health.
Despite the concern and uncertainty that the current situation creates, I am positive about the future. The groundswell of public opinion cannot simply be ignored. Action will have to be taken to reduce the worst effects of diesel emissions, whether mandated by Europe or not.
It will be important for the Government to identify and target the most polluting vehicles on our streets. Diesel is essential to our haulage and transport industries and it cannot be replaced overnight. But we can focus on the engines which do the most harm, target the immediate wins and make a difference step by step.
Positive change will also come about because new technology provides an increasingly attractive and affordable alternatives to diesel.
Dearman is only one example of hundreds of innovative companies across the UK who are helping to shape a cleaner healthier future. Our zero-emission alternative to diesel transport refrigeration units, which is powered by a unique liquid nitrogen engine, is now being put through its paces by Sainsbury’s.
We are far from alone. Now is an exciting time for clean technology and seemingly every day a new innovation emerges which could provide a viable, cost competitive alternative to fossil fuels.
But technology development remains challenging. The road between the drawing board and mass adoption is littered with inventions that could have changed the world, but never quite made it.
The Government can play an important role in incentivising a shift from dirty to clean technology, but again, it cannot wait until EU negotiations are concluded. Collectively businesses, innovators and the Government are presented with a once in a generation opportunity to clean the air we breathe. We cannot allow current uncertainty to undermine that or to distract us from that goal.
Instead we should follow the lead of Duncan Sandys MP and his colleagues who introduced the Clean Air Act in 1958, improving the health and wellbeing of millions.