Tackling air quality – the evidenced based approach

June 20, 2018

  By Faisal Haroon, Energy Policy Economist

Environment Secretary Michael Gove launched an ambitious clean air strategy to tackle air pollution last month, which will have a significant impact on policy in the transport, industrial and building sectors. Government will work towards reducing emissions from non-road mobile machinery, domestic combustion and from industrial process generation. This is a huge opportunity for low-emission technology providers to get involved and influence the clean air strategy.

Air pollution is the fourth biggest threat to public health after cancer, obesity and heart disease. This new strategy, currently out for consultation until 14th August 2018, is estimated to reduce the cost of air pollution by £1 billion every year until 2020, rising to £2.5 billion every year from 2030.

Alongside the strategy release, a new tool was released by Public Health England which has been developed by Imperial College and the UK Health Forum. The tool shows the potential costs to the NHS and social care system of exposure to Particulate Matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2). These are two of the five pollutants to be dealt with under the government’s strategy – other pollutants are Ammonia, Sulphur Dioxide and Non-methane Volatile Organic Compounds (NMVOCS). This tool will enable local authorities to estimate the economic and social impact of air pollution in their area and may facilitate a more developed economic and financial case for reducing emissions.

My colleague, Anna Livesey,  wrote previously that there could be “merit in supporting local authorities in the process of identifying and implementing measures in such a way that ensures they are effective”. One measure of effectiveness is undertaking a cost-benefit analysis to quantify the effects of a measure. Until now, there has been no simple method for local authorities to estimate the potential savings to the public purse from tackling air pollution.

This new tool focusses on quantifying the effects of reducing air pollution and can run simulations for different scenarios. For example, you could run a simulation to see what the expected avoided cost is by 2040 of moving 100% of the population to an area with low air pollution.

Birmingham, for example, could save £399 million per 100,000 of the population by 2040 if the council moved all residents to a low air pollution area (impact of the NO2 scenario). Largest cost reductions are from social and secondary care. This is followed by medication and primary care.

By moving 100% of Birmingham’s population to a low air pollution area, an estimated 339,000 deaths and 623,000 diseases (asthma, diabetes and lung cancer) could be avoided by 2040.

Part of the government’s strategy is giving the 353 local councils in England more power to decide how to spend public money in their areas to meet local needs. With air pollution currently a key area of focus for the government, this tool is a step in the right direction to allow local councils to best utilise spending and improve air quality. The government envisage that this new tool will facilitate councils developing more robust economic and financial analysis to support bids for funding in tackling air pollution.

The case for low-emission solution providers to partner with local councils is now even more compelling. With councils now able to quantify the impact of improving air quality, they can develop a robust strategy to promote the uptake of low-emission fuels and technologies. The tool may also benefit technology providers. For example, construction companies and local councils could partner to develop technology to cut emissions from non-road mobile machinery. Local councils could also partner with low-emission domestic heating manufactures to replace (for example) solid fuel open fire heating systems. Ecuity’s recent analysis on the air quality issue focussed on the potential for mobility credits to support the phase out of diesel vehicles. This type of analysis could be revisited in light of the new Public Health tool.

For companies with technologies which may be able to support in tackling air pollution, the air quality consultation is well worth engaging with. For more information or a discussion on how Ecuity can support with responding to this consultation or developing other analysis, please get in touch.


Previous air quality insights by Ecuity:

For more information please contact the author: Faisal Haroon, Energy Policy Economist – Faisal.haroon@ecuity.com