The UK has been breaching EU legal limits for NOx across many cities and regions since 2010. As a result the European Court ordered the UK to publish an action plan on how to tackle air pollution. The plan introduced clean air zones in the worst performing areas but the UK continues to breach limits and the European Commission has threatened enforcement which could see the UK pay millions of pounds in fines. Air Quality shifted further up the agenda in 2016 following a UK high court ruling that the UK Government was not going far enough to reduce air pollution. The High Court ordered the Government to produce a new clean air plan, the final of which was published on 26th July 2017 (here). The plan includes a focus on local authorities to implement a range of air quality improvement measures via air quality plans, suggests a tax on diesel vehicles to be announced in the autumn and another consultation on further measures also this autumn.
Air Quality has been on the agenda for a number of years due to the highly negative impacts it has on health. The recent threat of EU fines and the UK high court ruling have shifted these issues sharply into focus with regular news coverage on the causes and associated impacts. A feature of this coverage is the message that vehicle emissions are the predominant cause. Whilst this may be the case, as a result, other contributors to air pollution are overlooked. In particular, emissions from buildings, industry and other stationary energy sources all also contribute to air pollution issues and regulations exist aimed at targeting these. However, these emissions are likely to increase as we move to more decentralised energy; generating localised heat and power in urban centres. The devolution of decision making to key urban areas, in terms of implementation of clean air zones and air quality investment (based on Government grants) and heat networks will be hugely relevant to this. In addition, the government has published a wider Clean Air Strategy in May 2018, which sets out actions to improve air quality by reducing pollution from a wide range of sources. Affecting a broad range of sectors, the new strategy is now out for consultation, seeking views on the proposed actions.
There are implications for a number of organisations related to air quality. For example, the Medium Combustion Plant Directive, will place limits on combustion plant and generators in England and Wales from 2019. Meanwhile, the Air Quality Plan is expected to mean the introduction of more stringent measures which could be extended beyond the transport sector. Operators of local energy generators will therefore need to ensure compliance. At the same time there are opportunities for developers of low carbon, low emissions heating systems which will be more suitable in areas where air quality is a risk. Ecuity’s team is familiar with the raft of existing of air quality regulations and has been closely following the development of the new air quality plan. Ecuity can advise operators and developers of the opportunities and risks for their systems of changes in policy.
Ecuity is working with a number of clients to tackle issues associated with air quality. This includes tackling issues with diesel generators; challenging the effectiveness of existing regulations and seeking innovation support for newer technologies. Ecuity can assess the implications of regulations against your commercial objectives and make recommendations for how to approach officials and respond to relevant consultations such as the upcoming Clean Air Strategy. Engagement with local authorities, especially those with more devolved powers, will play an important role in any approach. In December 2017 Ecuity hosted a West Midlands air quality roundtable, bringing together a cross-section of stakeholders from government and industry to consider how to tackle issues of air quality at a local level and the opportunities this might bring. For more information see here