Air pollution in review for 2002, a year for tackling transport emissions

Air pollution issues over the last 12 months have centred around traffic, with good news for alternative technology, but increasing criticism of air travel. However, if you’re heading abroad for some winter sun, you could do worse than buy a tree to soak up your carbon dioxide emissions.


The year began well, with new UK air quality statistics showing a gradual overall improvement in urban areas since 1993, although the trend in rural areas was less clear (see related story). The 2001 air quality figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that during 2001 there was an average of 21 days in which air pollution was moderate or higher.

February was the month for alternative vehicle fuels, with BP launching its sulphur-free petrol (see related story), the City of Hull decided to use a new 5% biofuel-diesel mix (see related story), and the Cardiff announced that it was going to use green driverless taxis (see related story). To drive it all home, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor called for the sale of fossil fuels for use in vehicles to be banned (see related story).

On the corporate side, 46 companies signed up for the UK’s new nationwide emissions trading scheme – the world’s first (see related story), whilst the country as a whole was on track to miss its greenhouse gas emission targets (see related story).

In March, environmental group Friends of the Earth made it known that factories across the country has reduced their emissions of cancer-causing pollutants (see related story). On 7 March, Secretary of State for the Environment, Margaret Beckett announced that the UK would be ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on emissions of greenhouse gases as soon as possible (see related story), committing to cut emissions by 12.5% by 2008-2012.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown’s budget in April was good news for the country’s least polluting vehicles, with cuts in road tax and 100% enhanced capital allowance for company cars (see related story). The National Society for Clean Air called on the Government to support clean technology (see related story), and for good reason, as carbon dioxide emissions were found to have increased for the second year running (see related story). Fortunately, other greenhouse gas emissions in the UK continued to decline.

Climate change continued to be an important issue in May, following a warning that its impacts would be sharper and will occur sooner than previously predicted (see related story). The Government was also advised that it was missing opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by failing to produce a common label for products that contribute to climate change (see related story).

In June, a scientist announced that he was investigating ways of mitigating the impact of air pollution from motorways (see related story). Fortunately, the general travelling public were also doing their bit with the news that railway use was growing at a faster rate than car use (see related story).

The question was, is the Climate Change Levy effective? According to London Electricity, despite all the criticism it’s a valid method of motivating business to improve its energy efficiency (see related story).

In July, airline passengers were offered the opportunity to buy trees in order to offset the carbon dioxide emitted by their flight (see related story). There were also calls for car drivers to pay more for their emissions, with a suggestion for pay-as-you-go motor insurance (see related story), and Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett launched the ALTER project, promoting lower emissions from vehicles in towns and cities (see related story).

Airlines were also the focus of attention in August, when the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) called on them to pay for their environmental pollution (see related story). The Government announced that it would raise targets for carbon monoxide, benzene, particulates and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (see related story). In Brighton, a group of 16 companies decided to balance their carbon emissions (see related story).

September saw the launch of an environmentally friendly boat engine, with no oil, propeller, and little noise (see related story). The ministers in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs underwent a portfolio reshuffle (see related story), and the Department of Trade and Industry announced that it would investigate the practicality of storing carbon dioxide underground (see related story).

In October, the IPPR reared its head again, calling this time for the closure of fossil fuel power stations in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (see related story). Research also revealed that a phenomenon called ‘singing’ can damage clean combustors (see related story), and a scientist at the University of Edinburgh counted the costs – and savings – of climate change (see related story). A Londoner can save up to £80,000 in his lifetime by cutting emissions, if he puts his mind to it.

November – a busy month – saw a new professional body for air quality (see related story), a 5% drop in the Government’s greenhouse gas emissions (see related story) and a disappointing pre-budget statement from the Chancellor (see related story). As the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions rose (see related story), a group of scientists called for the Climate Change Levy to be scrapped (see related story). But Newcastle came to the rescue by announcing that it was to be the first city in the world to go carbon neutral (see related story), and a bright spark suggested giving cars eco-labels (see related story).

Airlines came under attack yet again in December for their greenhouse gas emissions, this time from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (see related story), and Transport Secretary Alistair Darling admitted that the Government’s transport policy is failing (see related story).

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