Improved air quality figures for UK back call for concerted European action

The UK's generally improving performance in tackling air pollution gives statistical backing to a call by the Government seeking renewed effective and concerted action across Europe to improve air quality further.

Part of the UK effort to improve air quality, the nation-wide

Part of the UK effort to improve air quality, the nation-wide "Stop Fuming" free emissions checking programme run by the motor industry showed that six out of seven cars sampled in 4,000 vehicles passed the check

The impetus behind Government moves to clean up the UK's polluted air has been supported by recently published figures which show that greenhouse gas emissions fell significantly between 1990 and 1998.

Key points in the DETR 1998 emission estimates for greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, and a provisional estimate of total carbon dioxide emissions, for the UK are:

Greenhouse gas emissions

  • emissions of the "basket" of six greenhouse gases, weighted by global warming potential, fell by 8.5% between 1990 and 1998. To meet its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, the UK has agreed to reduce emissions by 12.5% relative to the 1990 level over the period 2008-2012.
  • emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, fell by 7% between 1990 and 1998. The UK aims to move beyond its Kyoto target towards its goal of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide by 20% below 1990 levels by 2010.
  • 1999 emissions of carbon dioxide are estimated provisionally at 155.5 million tonnes, about 0.5% lower than in 1998 and 7.5% lower than in 1990.

Air emissions

  • emissions of all the main air pollutants, apart from ammonia and selenium, maintained a downward trend and fell between 1997 and 1998.

Air quality headline indicator
The latest report from the DETR on the air quality headline, one of the 15 headline indicators of sustainable development, shows that:

  • in urban areas in 1999, air pollution was recorded as moderate or higher on 30 days on average per site, compared with 59 days per site in 1993, when this series of statistics began. The DETR says that the figure for 1999 is higher than for 1998 because ozone levels in 1999 were higher, due in part to the warmer weather.
  • at urban sites, the continued decline in the number of days of pollution caused by particles, and sulphur dioxide, offset the impact of higher ozone levels in 1999.
  • in rural areas, air pollution was recorded as moderate or higher on 48 days on average per site. The number of days has fluctuated between 21 days in 1987 and 50 days in 1990. The series can be volatile from one year to the next and there is no clear trend, says the DETR. This reflects the variability in levels of ozone, the main cause of rural pollution.

Causes of urban air pollution
The Department attributes the main causes of days of moderate or higher air pollution at urban sites to fine particles (PM10), ozone and sulphur dioxide. Between 1993 and 1999, the average number of days of pollution at urban sites caused by fine particles, solely, or in combination, fell by about 80% to eight days per year. The average number of days caused by sulphur dioxide, solely or in combination, fell from 20 days in 1993 to one day in 1999. Particles come from numerous man-made and natural sources, and can be generated in the UK and abroad.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher emphasised the international aspect of air quality control in his comments on the latest figures for the headline indicator.

He said that the last two years had been the best on record for levels of air pollution in urban areas, but emphasised that UK air quality would have been even better with effective, concerted action in Europe.

Mr Meacher called for renewed action in Europe to cut emissions that contribute to high air pollution incidents in this country.

He said that the National Emissions Ceilings Directive and the Ozone Directive were currently being negotiated. The UK wants other member states to match its own commitments.

The Minister welcomed the fact that a number of Member States had shown a more flexible approach to the ceilings proposed under the National Emission Ceilings Directive.

"The UK has pledged substantial further reductions in our ceilings for sulphur dioxide and VOCs - more than any other EU Member State. I shall be pressing for this directive to be agreed by the Environment Council this summer."

Air monitoring network expands
The automatic air quality monitoring network, which is an essential tool in providing the statistics on which policy in the UK is based, now reaches large areas of the country and continues to increase in extent and coverage.

The planned expansion of the network aims to allow the UK to meet the requirements of the Ambient Air Quality Directive and subsequent Daughter Directives for air quality under EU legislation.

This expansion will assist in improving the accuracy of national mapping techniques and support policy decisions in central government, in addition to assisting local authorities in their statutory duties on air quality.

Guidance on LAQM
The DETR recently published guidance on Local Air Quality Management. Issued under Section 88(1) of the Environment Act 1995, the revised local air quality management policy guidance notes are:

Framework for review and assessment of air quality LAQM.G1(00)
Developing local air quality action plans and strategies: the main considerations LAQM.G2(00)
Air quality and transport LAQM.G3(00)
Air quality and land use planning LAQM.G4 (00)

The DETR says that the main changes to the guidance are to the suggested timetable for the key stages in the LAQM process, including a six-month extension for completion of the reviews and assessments by extending the original deadline of end of December 1999 to end of June 2000.

The DETR has also extended the deadline by which it suggests local authorities ought to designate their Air Quality Management Areas to October 2000 (this deadline was set as September 2000 in the draft consultation document sent out on 5 November 1999) and the Department has also brought forward the suggested deadline for undertaking a further review and assessment by two years to 2003 (the original deadline was 2005).

The guidance has taken on board the new national air quality objectives, as set out in the Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, published in January 2000.



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