Efra Committee slams Government

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Efra Committee slams Government

The recent report on Air Quality by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is another damning indictment of the Government’s inaction in addressing the problem of air pollution.

In particular the report highlights one of the issues that EPUK has raised at regular intervals since the passing of the Environment Act 1995, namely that, although Defra might be the lead department on matters relating to atmospheric pollution, it is an issue that all Government departments have some measure of responsibility for delivering solutions. The report also recognises that there are some departments that have a particular responsibility in this respect. Apart from Defra these are DfT, DCLG, DECC and, most importantly, HMT.

It might be possible to criticise the report for its seeming emphasis on NO2 to the relative exclusion of PM but this is understandable given the preponderance of breaches of the EU limit value. Other pollutants are mentioned, notably ammonia from agriculture, but there is only a limited recognition that there are no known thresholds for the adverse health effects of PM and that non-regulated metrics such as particle numbers and/or surface area may be at least as important. The significance of this is that, although the limit values for PM may be being achieved, there are almost certainly still significant adverse health effects at current concentrations.

The report also places great emphasis on the establishment of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) and seems to accept Defra’s view that they are the main solution to the air pollution problem. This, in EPUK’s view, is at best overly optimistic given the assumptions in the modelling (which even Defra’s sensitivity analysis indicated that a large number of other cities could also exceed), and that the concept of CAZs, funding and local authority obligations are still unclear at present. On the plus side the report does recognise that a “one size fits all approach” to air pollution is inappropriate and that measures that might be effective in one city could have little or no effect in another.

There are welcome references to the inadequacies of the vehicle emissions testing regime and the so-called “dieselgate” scandal. So far as the latter is concerned the emphasis is mainly on VW although there is a brief reference to the possibility of other manufacturers engaging in “cycle beating”. Linked to this is a section on new technologies which includes a recommendation for a scrappage scheme for diesel cars that are more than ten years old. There is also a strong case made for fiscal incentives to encourage the purchase of cleaner vehicles, perhaps rather ironic given the changes in the VED regime coming into force in the near future. What is particularly welcome in this is that there is a clear recognition that “cleaner vehicles” is taken to include those performing better in respect of toxic emissions rather than just CO2 as has been the case up to now.

Also welcome are sections looking at emissions from shipping and from agriculture. In the latter it is interesting that on the question of ammonia emissions both IAQM and Professor Mark Sutton (NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) believed the NECD targets could be met relatively easily, while the farming industry felt it to be “at the limit of technical feasibility”.

The Efra report is available at Efra 4th Report, April 2016

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