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


“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 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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