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Atmospheric Chemists and Defra talk air quality

Posted on 29 January 2018

Scientists at York discuss the role of research in support of the Government's UK Clean Air Strategy.

Leading UK air quality scientists joined officials from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to discuss research in support of the Government’s UK Clean Air Strategy. At the second National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) Air Quality Forum, experts and policy makers were brought together in Westminster to think about the priorities for air pollution research. The United Nations Environment Programme declared air pollution as the World’s worst environmental health risk, with the Royal College of Physicians estimating that it is linked to 40,000 deaths per year in the UK. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, has stated that the Clean Air Strategy, due to be published in 2018, will address all forms of air pollution, not just transport, delivering cleaner air for the whole country. 

Defra Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, kicked off the policy forum with a challenge to the research community to consider their role in moving towards a more multidisciplinary, whole system approach to environmental issues. This set the tone for a day of discussions featuring priorities for research, dealing with uncertainty, effective science communication, and the interplay of engineering, social and physical sciences to drive innovation.

The forum, organised by Dr Sarah Moller from the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories (WACL) at the University of York, was rather different to many scientific meetings in that presentations were short, only ten minutes, and intended to stimulate discussion and challenge thinking. The aim was to initiate conversations between policy officials and experts that could lead to future collaboration and knowledge exchange.

Harriet Wallace, Defra Deputy Director for Air Quality and Industrial Emissions, introduced the attendees to the Clean Air Strategy that the Government intends to publish later this year. The presentation was followed by a lively discussion session, chaired by Professor Ally Lewis from WACL. Contributions were many and varied, with experts offering advice, challenge and evidence to support and strengthen the themes being considered for inclusion in the strategy.

Attendees included experts from UK universities, research institutes, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Met Office, as well as Defra officials and research council representatives. Dr Moller said, “I was delighted with how open everyone was to sharing views and discussing their work. This was a great opportunity to bring together communities who don’t interact as a group very often. The event seems to have been a real success". Dr Moller added “but that is just the beginning. I now need to make sure that the interactions and ideas sparked by the day’s discussions are followed up and that the potential for research impact and knowledge exchange is maximised”.