2018: A vital year for the UK government and air quality

2018-02-19T15:03:25+00:00 February 14th, 2018|Viewpoints|

Last week, Dearman was invited to attend an Air Quality Showcase event, held at the House of Commons and organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution. The event was well-timed given all the policy currently being developed to reduce harmful levels of emissions across Britain.

The showcase was hosted by Matthew Pennycook MP, and gave us a chance to meet a number of policymakers, such as Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald MP, and former Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey MP. All of them are of course seeking to influence steps the UK government is taking to reduce air pollution. So what does 2018 hold on the policy front?

The strong arm of the law

After Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £220 million Clean Air Fund in the Autumn Budget, 2017 ended with the publication of the government’s Industrial Strategy, which commendably has Clean Growth as one of its four Grand Challenges.

But we began 2018 with the European Commission asking environment ministers from nine EU countries- including the UK- to attend a summit and explain what steps they were taking to reduce air pollution. All nine countries were chosen as they face potential legal action from the EU for breaching agreed air pollution limits. It won’t be until mid-March till we find out whether the Commission is satisfied with the plans that were eventually submitted- if not, a referral to the European Court of Justice awaits for countries falling short.

Similarly, we also await a court ruling imminent this month, in a case brought by environmental lawyers ClientEarth, about whether the UK government’s air quality plan needs to go further. Will ministers be forced to demand more from 45 local authorities with illegal levels of air pollution? These 45 are identified as having illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide emissions, according to modelling from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). If ClientEarth wins, it will be the third time it has successfully sued the government and forced it to do more on tackling air pollution.

Major initiatives?

There is also the government’s additional Clean Air Strategy. The air quality plan that ClientEarth is suing DEFRA over is focussed on reducing nitrogen dioxide emissions from transport sources. The Clean Air Strategy will be much wider and will seek to tackle pollution from all sources, not just transport. A consultation on the strategy is expected to launch in the Spring, with the strategy itself being launched later this year. Part of the consultation is likely to consider whether more can be done to tackle emissions from non-road mobile machinery (NRMM), and this includes transport refrigeration units (TRUs). There are a number of zero-emission TRUs on the market, including Dearman’s, and, given the very high levels of pollution from diesel TRUs, it is vital the Clean Air Strategy takes steps to encourage a take-up of zero-emission TRUs.

There is also the government review of red diesel use in urban areas. As we at Dearman have long argued, it is illogical for government to subsidise diesel, for example, in delivery trucks’ weakly regulated secondary engines, while a number of zero emission alternatives are available and affordable. Government is effectively subsidising the disproportionate nitrogen oxide and particulate matter pollution from these secondary diesel engines. Chancellor Philip Hammond was right to launch the red diesel consultation last March, and we understand that draft proposals will be brought forward this year. These proposals will be a real opportunity to encourage a transition to cleaner technologies and we hope this opportunity will not be missed.

Add in initiatives from city mayors, such as London’s Sadiq Khan bringing forward his plans for an Ultra-Low Emission Zone, the UK government developing proposals for a post-Brexit ‘green regulator’, and the Scottish and Welsh governments also taking additional steps, the overall picture shows a great many policy initiatives being worked on as we speak. If policymakers are to tackle air pollution, 2018 will be a vital year. Let’s see if they deliver.

by Mo Saqib, Policy & Communications Officer