Posted on 5 May 2017
Dr Eckersley said: “The government’s draft air pollution strategy is long-awaited and its mere publication ahead of next month’s general election represents a triumph for those environmental organisations that have been pressuring for it for some time.
“Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions from diesel vehicles are a key contributor to this pollution (which causes around 40,000 premature deaths every year in the UK), and roads in 75 different local authority areas across Britain have concentrations of NO2 thatexceed the legal limit of 40μg/m3.
“Vehicle exhausts, particularly from diesel engines, contribute significantly to this pollution, and therefore many expected the strategy to suggest radical proposals to prevent or discourage traffic from entering the most polluted areas.
“These expectations have been dashed. Environmental campaigners such as ClientEarth – the lawyers whose legal challenge led to the strategy’s publication during the ‘purdah’ pre-election period – are particularly scathing of the idea that councils will be able to reduce NO2 by introducing ‘non-charging’ clean air zones that do not penalise the drivers of dirty vehicles.
“Experience in countries such as Germany and Sweden has shown that charging motorists, or banning particularly old vehicles, is likely to be far more effective than voluntary measures.
“Other ideas, such as encouraging the removal of speed humps, ostensibly to keep traffic moving at a more consistent speed, are also likely to be insufficient to get NO2 concentrations down to legal levels.
“In addition, the document makes it clear that any ‘scrappage scheme’, through which owners of older vehicles could trade them in for a financial incentive or reduction on a low-emission replacement, would only make a very small difference to levels of NO2 in British cities.”
“Could it be that the heightened political atmosphere of the general election campaign resulted in a less ambitious strategy? Critics will keep a keen eye open for the final plan, due at the end of July, to see whether this might represent a more realistic attempt to get NO2 concentrations within legal limits.
“Similarly, future initiatives, such as potential changes to the structure of excise duty or fuel tax, may act as a greater incentive to motorists to switch to cleaner vehicles. But, following this most recent announcement, it is likely that many environmental and public health campaigners will not be ‘holding their breath.’"
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