UK develops stratagies to cut traffic pollution

New initiatives and proposed strategies to target vehicle emissions, combined with a long-term fall in atmospheric pollutants, give cause optimism over air quality but too many local authorities need to improve their performance as regulators

Air quality standards continue to be one of the key issues for the Government in its declared commitment to improve the environment and combat pollution.

Local Air Pollution Control (LAPC) statistics for 2000/01, showing the performance of LAs in carrying out their industrial air pollution regulatory responsibilities, revealed that 88 councils had not inspected many of their sites, with five authorities failing to inspect any of the 38 processes they regulate.

Disappointed that a significant proportion of councils were letting down those they represented, Environment Minister responded by calling for a "rapid improvement in performance."

Impact of transport
The adverse impact of air pollution from transport on human health has also continued to cause concern. According to a report issued in November last year by the British Thoracic Society vehicle emissions figure as a key factor in the increased levels of lung disease. Jonathan Murray, Head of TransportAction, the Government's authority on clean fuel vehicles, and part of the Energy Saving Trust, said that these emissions have a direct link with the one in four people in the UK who die from respiratory diseases.

The authors of the report, the most detailed of its kind, found that one in ten adults and one in five children are now diagnosed as being asthmatic. Death rates from respiratory conditions in the UK are more than twice the EU average and, of all illnesses, they are most likely to cause emergency admission to hospital.

"Across the UK," said Mr Murray, "road transport is to blame for 23% of particulate matter (PM10) emissions. This pollutant has long been linked to respiratory problems. These levels are even higher in towns and cities, reaching 69% in London, for example."

He pointed out that, through its CleanUp programme, TransportAction offers grants to help convert commercial and public service diesel vehicles to run on cleaner fuels - such as compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Alternatively, there are grants to fit particulate traps, oxidation catalysts or even newer, cleaner diesel engines. All of these measures significantly reduce the level of emissions.

Mr Murray said that since the launch of CleanUp's sister programme, Powershift, grants had been provided to convert over 10,000 vehicles to run on cleaner fuels, with major companies such as Safeway and Tibbet and Brittan taking advantage of the options made available by CleanUp funding.

Last year TransportAction CleanUp announced is was to award grant money totalling around £100,000 to several local authorities to enable them to cut emissions from their vehicle fleets. The bulk of the money is being used to fit particulate traps and oxidation catalysts, which reduce emissions caused by heavy duty diesel-powered vehicles.

Vehicles coming under the programme include RCVs, buses, recycling vehicles, a drainage vehicle, a skip vehicle, a street lighting repair vehicle and a fleet of commercial vehicles.

The authorities include Camden LBC, Dorset CC, Cambridge City Council, Dudley MBC, Easington DC, Wirral MB and Stockport MBC.

Grants are also available to assist conversion to compressed natural gas (CNG).

Plans to facilitate and encourage the development of cleaner, greener vehicles for the future were announced last month. A new draft strategy, Powering Future Vehicles, now out for consultation and the brainchild of the combined efforts of the DTLR, DEFRA, the Treasury and the DTI, proposes how to make the UK a world leader in the move to a low-carbon road transport system, while minimising the environmental impacts and maximising the benefits to UK industry.

Welcoming the new document, Michael Meacher said: "If sales of low-carbon vehicles can be increased to our target of between 8 and 12 % of all new vehicles within a decade, it will lead to real reductions in transport's contribution to UK greenhouse emissions, in a sector where reductions have been particularly difficult to achieve."

Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng pointed the way to further tax incentives for low-carbon vehicles and fuels as part of the Powering Future Vehicles initiative which the Chancellor had announced would be introduced.

TransportAction backed the government's "exciting mandate for climate-friendly cars" and said that existing clean fuel technologies that were already being used within the UK included hybrid, LPG, natural gas and electric vehicles. Jonathan Murray said: "It is hydrogen power that is rapidly emerging as the most promising long-term alternative transport fuel to solve environmental and energy supply problems."

He continued: "While there is a growing consensus among fuel suppliers and vehicle manufacturers that hydrogen will be the fuel of the future, there is no consensus about how we actually get there and who will pay the costs involved."

The TransportAction Director also said: "In response to this gap in policy, the Energy Saving Trust will soon be developing its Strategy for Cleaner Vehicles. The Strategy will influence the future direction of TransportAction's programmes and, in turn, help the Government meets its aspiration of creating and sustaining a market in climate-friendly vehicles."

Emissions fall
On the overall emission front, the latest report from the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) 2001, published on 10 December, showed that the UK was continuing to cut its emissions of air pollutants.

Since 1990, the NAEI report estimates that emissions of most pollutants have continued to fall, some considerably.

Fall in emissions since 1990
   
Sulphur dioxide (SO2) down 68%
Dioxins and furans (PCDD/F) down 70%
Lead (Pb) down 80%
Mercury (Hg) down 71%
Particles (PM10) down 39%
Nitrous Oxide (N2O) down 36%
Methane (CH4) down 28%
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) down 9%
Ammonia (NH3) down 5%

Overall emissions of greenhouse gases fell by 14%, but emissions of one greenhouse gas, sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), increased, due mainly to industrial applications. However, SF6 still accounts for less than 0.2% of UK emissions of greenhouse gases, and emissions of fluorinated compounds as a whole fell by 43% compared to 1990 levels.

Despite the "very good news" of the figures, which he found encouraging, Mr Meacher warned, "We must not be complacent."
The Environment Minister added: "There are still significant problems where we need to do more, for example, to further reduce greenhouse gases and harmful pollutants such as ammonia and particulate matter."


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