One thing’s for certain: the need to tackle Britain’s air pollution is not an issue that’s going away any time soon.
In addition to last year’s plan from ministers to reduce illegal levels of nitrogen oxide emissions, this Spring we are expecting a consultation to be launched on the government’s Clean Air Strategy. This will need to be strong and comprehensive given that government just recently lost a third court case over its air pollution plans.
Treasury ministers look to act
In terms of doing more, one area that is looking increasingly attractive to Treasury ministers is the use of red diesel in urban areas. And perhaps unsurprisingly so. Why should the Treasury subsidise polluting diesel, costing itself millions in foregone tax revenue, undermining clean tech innovation that ministers have rightly invested in, and effectively hindering the government’s own ambitions to reduce air pollution?
And so at his Spring Statement on 13th March, Chancellor Philip Hammond fired the starting gun on a call for evidence that will look at how access to cheap red diesel undermines clean technologies and impacts urban air quality.
Declining climate for diesel
Various forms of diesel bans are being implemented in cities across Europe and elsewhere in the world. Although progress has certainly been made in terms of the development of the Euro emission standards, the declining support for diesel makes it inevitable that the spotlight will fall on engines that are not subject to the Euro emission standards and hence are much more polluting. For example, a secondary engine that powers a delivery truck’s refrigeration unit. This is classed as ‘non-road’ even though it spends its time on the road while food deliveries are being made.
The EU’s new Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) Regulations, which apply to such secondary engines, are not sufficiently strong. A diesel transport refrigeration unit (TRU) currently emits six times as much nitrogen oxide and 29 times as much particulate matter as the Euro 6 main engine propelling the truck or trailer. The new, ‘stricter’ NRMM Regulations will continue to allow this level of pollution.
A level playing field for clean technologies
Restricting the use of red diesel in urban areas would be a way of levelling the commercial playing field for clean alternatives, by asking fleet operators to pay a fair rate of tax. Without this, a refrigerated trailer passing school children having a kickabout will continue to emit the particulate matter equivalent of 30 trucks. Imagine a line of trailers the length of four football pitches concentrated in a single refrigeration unit.
With the urgent need to clean up Britain’s air, there are many cleaner secondary engines affordably available on the market, and fleet operators can get ahead of the curve by adopting these solutions. Otherwise, the red diesel shake up that’s coming will certainly nudge them to do so.
Special Projects Director, Dearman