Government data has shown that air pollution in the UK is the primary cause of 40 – 50,000 premature deaths a year. This has led a cross-party committee of MPs to announce that air pollution has now become a public health emergency in the UK and are calling for the government to do more to curb emissions.
However, this government is not renowned for a firm stance on cutting emissions. In 2015 the government announced plans to bring Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) to one standard payment of £140 for all cars, regardless of their emissions. This removes the incentive for people to buy less polluting cars, your Prius will be taxed at exactly the same rate as your Porsche, which many have suggested will have a devastating impact on the UK’s ability to meet EU air quality targets.
Vehicle exhausts are a major contributor to air pollution in the UK. The Guardian recently published an article around the astounding statistic that 97% of all modern diesel cars emit more toxic nitrous oxide (NOx) pollution than the official limit. Although ministers backed more realistic EU emissions regulations in February, these still allow for new vehicles to be omitting double the official limit until 2021, only dropping to 50% more after 2021.
With the new data around deaths related to air pollution, MPs are calling for the government to take a firmer stance on emissions, including the introduction of a scrappage scheme for old, dirty diesels, an idea being backed by air quality experts at Kings College and the London mayor, Boris Johnson. The RAC Foundation have said that taking 400,000 diesel cars off the road with a £2000 incentive could cost in the region of £800mn but only reduce emissions by 3%.
The most recent DEFRA air quality plan includes Clean Air Zones for Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham, Southampton and Leeds – councils will impose charges on polluting vehicles to discourage them from coming into the city centres, as in London’s Low Emissions Zone. London already has the wheels in motion for an Ultra Low Emissions Zone which will come into effect in 2020.
Solutions to the UK’s air quality problems are out there, we just need the political will to put them in to force. There are hopes that the new data indicating air pollution to be the UK’s biggest killer, after smoking, will finally rally concerted action on air quality.
(Source: The Guardian, 2016)