Friends of the Earth launches air quality proposals ahead of impending Government plan

The Government has today (11 April) been called upon to commit to clean air quality measures by climate change campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE), as a new survey shows that almost half of UK citizens support restriction on polluting vehicles.

The creation of a new Clean Air Act and a plan to end illegal pollution in 2018 are among specific actions in FoE’s proposed plan, ahead of the Government’s much-anticipated Air Quality Plan expected this week. Other measures include a diesel scrappage scheme and a wide-ranging network of plug-in points for electric vehicles (EVs) by 2025.

“This is a gold-standard setting plan for what is needed to ensure clean air everywhere,” FoE air pollution campaigner Oliver Hayes said. “We need tough action on the causes of pollution but also real incentives to help drivers get out of dirty diesels and into cleaner alternatives.

“It’s not acceptable if the Government promises to clean up the air only in pollution hot-spots because everyone deserves to breathe clean air.”

Public support

Ministers need to produce a draft plan by 24 April after a successful legal challenge from environmental law firm ClientEarth ruled that the Government’s 2015 version failed to comply with relevant EU Directives. Air pollution leads to an estimated 40,000 early deaths each year in the UK, while it was recently reported that London breached its annual legal limit within five days of 2017. 

Politicians are gradually starting to respond to the worsening issue; Sadiq Khan last week announced that London will have the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in 2019, while the Government is thought to be considering the national rollout of a diesel scrappage scheme.

A new YouGov survey commissioned by FoE shows that British citizens back restrictions on polluting vehicles. The poll, released today to coincide with FoE’s proposals, shows that 46% support restricting the use of certain cars, such as diesel, to combat air pollution in UK towns and cities.

According to the survey, 39% people said they would support restrictions, even if it meant they or their family couldn’t use their own cars in those areas. It follows on from a previous FoE survey which revealed that almost half of car-owning UK adults would be likely to switch to a cleaner vehicle with Government support.

‘Dismissive of progress’

While reports show that diesel vehicles are now responsible for almost 40% of all NO2 emissions in the UK’s major cities, diesel car registrations are at an all-time high. In March, more businesses and consumers chose a new diesel car than in any other month in history, with figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) showing that almost quarter of a million left showrooms.

According to SMMT, diesel vehicles can play an important role in helping to improve air quality, contrary to recent media coverage. Diesel cars emit, on average, 20% lower CO2 than petrol equivalents, SMMT has noted.

The organisation also highlights that the latest Euro 6 vehicles are cleaner than ever, citing real-world tests on a London 159 bus route which showed a 95% drop in NOx compared with previous generation Euro 5 buses. The latest Euro 6 cars are classed as low-emission for the purposes of the proposed London ULEZ, meaning drivers of these vehicles will be free to enter the zone without charge.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “Euro 6 diesel cars on sale today are the cleanest in history. Not only have they drastically reduced or banished particulates, sulphur and carbon monoxide but they also emit vastly lower NOx than their older counterparts – a fact recognised by London in their exemption from the ULEZ that will come into force in 2019. Some recent reports have failed to differentiate between these much cleaner cars and vehicles of the past.

“This is unfair and dismissive of progress made. In addition to their important contribution to improving air quality, diesel cars are also a key part of action to tackle climate change while allowing millions of people, particularly those who regularly travel long distances, to do so as affordably as possible.

George Ogleby

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