Poor air quality is damaging the UK’s environment and harming the nation’s health: emissions have declined significantly over many decades, but not far enough to prevent the early deaths of 40-50,000 people each year from cardiac, respiratory and other diseases linked to air pollution. The Government must act now to tackle this public health emergency: the Cabinet Office should set out before the summer recess how it will ensure that all government policies take air quality impacts into account; the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) must publish by the end of 2016 an overarching strategy for tackling all air pollutants, produced by all sectors from transport and industry to energy and farming. The Government must update Parliament annually on progress in delivering the strategy’s objectives.
Clean Air Zones
Defra’s plans for new Clean Air Zones to cut nitrogen dioxide pollution give councils insufficient control over implementation: ‘one size fits all’ Zones must not be imposed on cities from Southampton to Leeds. Communities must be able to tailor controls to meet their own circumstances, for example to charge vehicles to access Zones at certain times of day or to target specific bus routes. Defra proposes to allow only London and five other cities to charge polluting vehicles: dozens of areas elsewhere in England exceed EU limits so legislation must give charging powers to councils for use by any community which supports the approach. The Government must also devolve to councils greater flexibility over how they can use powers over traffic movement and new development and provide them with adequate funding to take the best action for their communities, inside and outside the Zones.
Cutting transport emissions
Volkswagen apologised for using software to cheat EU vehicle emissions tests. But it has not given transparent explanations or taken effective remedial action so as to regain consumer trust. The Government must ensure that vehicle company marketing claims are fully accurate and must work with the EU to establish tougher standards that cut vehicle emissions on the road.
Government incentives are needed now to establish a self-sustaining low-emissions vehicle market. Funding for new refuelling infrastructure and grants to help buy cleaner vehicles is welcome but currently insufficient to get polluting diesel vehicles off the road quickly. The Government should develop proposals now so that at the next Budget it can introduce a scheme to give those scrapping diesel vehicles over about 10 years old a discount on buying an ultra-low emissions vehicle.
Defra must help farmers to adopt modern practices that cut emissions of greenhouse gases and local air pollutants including ammonia. Defra should survey farmers about their needs and target support where it is most needed—for example, to improve manure and nutrient management and cut methane emissions through improved feed for livestock. Better use could be made of Common Agricultural Policy money to achieve air quality improvements: at a time of financial pressure on farm incomes, such support will achieve more than additional regulation and save farmers money.
25 April 2016