Air Quality Remains Poor – But the Blame has Shifted to the Car Manufacturers

Maybe, maybe the owners of VW, Audi, Seat and other cars will put enough political pressure on their governments that this will be sustained because of self-interest in the resale value of their cars rather than the condition of their lungs. Either way, this may just have been the best thing for air quality.

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Air quality in cities has been increasingly poor for years. Sustainable cities need great air quality. As regulation tightened on industrial emissions from factories, construction and combustion the predominant source of particulate matter, sulphur, NOx and ozone shifted to combustion engines in vehicles.

Earlier this year I blogged ‘At last it’s official and there should be no hiding place for the UK in improving its air quality as Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution’. The blame, at that time, was squarely on the British Government for failing to deliver on the legislation originating from Brussels.

Two years ago I suggested (in light of the Government’s electric car strategy) ‘There is good news in it – especially the announcement of £500m to be made available over the next parliament to support electric cars. However, there are clear problems with this strategy so Labour has an opportunity to set out its own, more radical, agenda. With the Labour Group in conference in Brighton – heartland of the Green Party, I wonder whether Corbyn will be willing to make some bold commitments – not least because last week we saw the blame shift from the Government to the manufacturers. It’s akin to blaming the bankers for providing the cash to everyone who wanted to borrow. If you want to buy a car, buy one – you’d think you were safe in the knowledge there are people monitoring the performance of cars in the same way there are watchdogs guarding the banks.

Today, in conference, Labour committed to getting the taxes owed by Starbucks, Google and others. Maybe tomorrow they’ll commit to ensuring multi-national car manufacturers will be brought to book for not just failing, downright deceptively avoiding, standards.

Government will be quick to confuse the issues of legislation, choice and deception. Government will suggest the cause of the issue is entirely down to the poor performance of new vehicles coming on to the market, a la VW. There isn’t many places the car manufacturers can go other than to fall on their catalytic convertors but the hiding place for national and local government wont be long lived.

If government’s don’t tighten up their regulation of the automakers and air quality there is only one loser – us. If government’s do respond we can see better vehicle technology deployed, an accelerated shift towards electric, gas and hydrogen engines and, as a result, cleaner air.

Maybe, maybe the owners of VW, Audi, Seat and other cars will put enough political pressure on their governments that this will be sustained because of self-interest in the resale value of their cars rather than the condition of their lungs. Either way, this may just have been the best thing for air quality.

Read also: http://www.citiesofthefuture.eu/volkswagen-cheating-an-opportunity-for-cities/

If only everything in life was as reliable as a … oh.

In the first blog I contributed to ‘Sustainable Smart Cities’ I wrote about the known impacts of poor air quality – particularly in urban areas. In that blog it said:

A report ‘Public Health Impacts of Combustion Emissions in the United Kingdom’  (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es2040416) states ‘Combustion emissions are a major contributor to degradation of air quality and pose a risk to human health. We evaluate and apply a multiscale air quality modeling system to assess the impact of combustion emissions on UK air quality. Epidemiological evidence is used to quantitatively relate PM2.5 exposure to risk of early death. We find that UK combustion emissions cause 13,000 premature deaths in the UK per year, while an additional 6000 deaths in the UK are caused by non-UK European Union (EU) combustion emissions.

In the EU, with a raft of legislation and Directives, there was frustration that nation states were failing to put in place the policies that would drive local air quality improvement. Local government would be nervous of introducing any policies that were considered ‘anti-business’ or ‘anti-car’ for fear of losing votes. National governments just ran scared of dictating uniform standards and policies. But there was hope. There was an increasing growth in electric vehicles, hydrogen technology, and compressed natural gas. Major hauliers have moved away from diesel and reaped the rewards. However, whilst there were tax incentives for motorists for lower emission vehicles there was always going to be an uptake of diesel and its growth in the UK has been in direct response to that.

We need to move away from diesel towards ever increasing cleaner fuels. Increasingly, we see two short-medium term winners – for lighter vehicles electric hybrid and electric plug-in solutions are likely to fair well and, given the improvement in battery technology and capacity the concept of ‘range anxiety’ (that awful fear that you might be left stranded somewhere without a hope of plugging-in) will become a thing of the past. More and more of these lighter vehicles appear to have switched from petrol to diesel in recent years as subsequent UK policy incentivised the uptake of diesel through reduced road tax as a way of reducing carbon emissions. For once, what’s been good for carbon dioxide (and only very marginally) hasn’t been good for local air quality.

But, overall, the policy makers have been weak to press harder despite the fines from Brussels hanging over Member States for whom air quality improvements have yet to be realised.

The growth in diesel vehicles by number has probably masked the very fact that has been exposed this week – that it is in the interests of car manufacturers to ‘fiddle’ the system to ensure in tests their vehicles pass the emissions tests. But in reality, on the roads, they are performing knowhere near where they say they are and a dirty, choking country mile from where they need to be. Don’t think either that it’s just diesel. Petrol, whilst more refined, is not much better and the real challenge is to switch from petroleum based products altogether.

The revelation that the respected car manufacturer, Volkswagen, has been ‘fiddling’ has brought a backlash that meant the CEO walked. The company’s credentials for reliability smashed by the story breaking. They wont be alone, surely. In a report ‘Don’t Breathe Here: Tackling Air Pollution from Vehicles’ – T&E analyses the reasons for and solutions to air pollution caused by diesel machines and cars – the worst of which, an Audi, emitted 22 times the allowed EU limit. In fact, every major car manufacturer is selling diesel cars that fail to meet EU air pollution limits on the road in Europe, according to data obtained by T&E.

As a consequence of this and emissions from diesel machines, much urban air in Europe is not fit to breathe. The high levels of particles, nitrogen oxides and unburned fuel create a cocktail of harmful pollution. The effects are half a million premature deaths each year; a quarter of a million hospital admissions; and 100 million lost working days cumulatively costing over €900 billion.

The regulators in whom we trust have been undone in the US and, who knows, in the EU too. So why is it that it we are surprised? The Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment aren’t. They have long been among those highlighting the fact that the real world experience of many car owners, even in terms of fuel consumption, did not come anywhere near to the official figures that resulted from emissions testing.  The question arises of why it takes underfunded NGOs to discover these problems, rather than the regulators themselves.

Now that the truth is out will politicians respond and toughen up? Will the outcry and outrage of the car-driving public demand politicians sort things out? Or will they, like they did with the banking industry, simply wait for the dust, particulates, NOx and ozone to settle and let the auto industry carry on the way it has?

Source: How Volkswagen got caught cheating emissions tests by a clean air NGO

Why Cities Are the Key to Fighting Climate Change 

Two highly respected commentators and influencers in the world of city devolution and governance have come to the fore this week. As the House of Lords finished its work, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution (for which the LGA provides the secretariat) launched a ‘far-reaching’ inquiry on devolution and constitutional reform. The inquiry is to be led by Lord Kerslake, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, who told us: “The work, so far, has been encouraging. We’ve had some very good names come forward to join the panel and a willingness of some quite senior people to give evidence as well.

“The feedback that I have had is that this is a positive step and could help move devolution on really in every form.”

Whilst Lord Kerslake is a formidable negotiator and well versed in the politics of cities there is an altogether more tub-thumping and positive, outcome led call to arms from Mayor Bloomberg.

“‘The world’s first Metropolitan Generation is coming of age, and as a result, the world will be shaped increasingly by metropolitan values: industriousness, creativity, entrepreneurialism, and, most important, liberty and diversity. That is a hopeful development for humanity, and an overpowering counterweight to the forces of repression and intolerance that arise out of religious fanaticism and that now pose a grave threat to the security of democratic nations… As those in the Metropolitan Generation assume leadership positions, cities will become not just more culturally significant but also more politically powerful.” 

In particular, Bloomberg cites the challenge of global warming to which cities, in the absence of national and even State governments, must respond.

Climate change calls on societies to act quickly, and cities tend to be more nimble than national governments, which are more likely to be captured or neutralized by special interest groups and which tend to view problems through an ideological, rather than a pragmatic, lens. 

For mayors, reducing carbon pollution is not an economic cost; it is a competitive necessity. Earlier this year, Beijing announced that it would close its coal-fired power plants because any marginal financial benefit they offered was swamped by their net costs, including those of health care and forgone economic investment. Dirty air is a major liability for a city’s business environment.

Urban leadership on climate change has also led to an unprecedented level of cooperation among cities. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, for which I serve as president of the board, has brought together more than 75 cities committed to sharing best practices and spreading proven solutions. The evidence is clear that this networking strategy is working, as many carbon-reduction projects have spread to cities across the globe. For instance, only six C40 cities had bike-sharing programs in 2011. By 2013, 36 had them. As London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, said in 2013, “By sharing best practice through C40—and shamelessly appropriating other cities’ best ideas—we can take action on climate change and improve the quality of life for our residents.”

 

Source: Michael Bloomberg | Why Cities Are the Key to Fighting Climate Change | Foreign Affairs

Source: Lord Kerslake: ‘Immense challenge’ to empower local communities and cities

City transport needs saving from itself

A really good piece on integration of systems and a smart city approach published by The Conversation (7th August 2015) “City transport needs saving from itself – here’s how to do it” by Yvonne Huebner. The piece covers energy, grid lock and smart traffic systems.

The desire for ever greater urbanisation is putting unrealistic demands on existing infrastructure, road and rail networks constrained by geology, topography, climate, land ownership, planning (or lack of it) and the unregulated freedoms afforded to personal mobility. Politically, gridlock (or congestion) is always topical and of great local importance to the economy, health, wellbeing and environment within our cities. Smarter cities with integrated systems of movement en masse have to be part of the solution.

City / University Dialogue for Urban Living in 21st Century

This afternoon at the ISCN conference in Hong Kong there is a focus on the way in which universities and cities can form effective, collaborative alliances to contribute towards meeting the challenge of urban living in the 21st Century. It’s a response to the World Economic Forum Global Risks 2015 report which flags up climate change, urbanisation and growing population and aspirations within them.

Without doubt urbanisation is the perfect platform to encourage inter-disciplinary collaboration within universities. Those UK universities who have identified this as an opportunity to promote this through an emphasis on urbanisation are creating think tanks, centres of excellence and institutes to address them.


Hong Kong – a city blessed with top universities and some significant urban challenges. 

K.S.Wong, the Secretary for Environment, Hong Kong, spoke at the conference as a graduate of Hong Kong University and has led the policy development of green building standards building on his training as an architect.

Despite the obvious urbanisation of Hong Kong, the island remains green, but liveability and its eco footprint is central to its planning. Policies around green spaces, sprawl, natural assets, connectivity and isolation are in place to preserve these attributes. By maintaining high levels of density it is clearly possible to protect natural assets but also achieve impressive performance in energy intensity.

To that end, HK is:

  • developing a green neighbourhood on the site of the former city airport and using a district cooling system;
  • It’s also committing all public buildings to meet green building standards;
  • Developing a waste to energy plant from sewage sludge to power the islands needs;
  • Developing an exemplar zero carbon building.

The climate in Hong Kong presents a significant challenge with high temperatures and humidity driving demand for cooling and dehumidification systems to maintain comfort in buildings. Sharing the knowledge and learning from Hong Kong with the developing world is central to its mission.

Again, air quality remains a high priority and by law low sulphur fuels will be required to address this problem. Shipping remains an important contributor to poor air quality in Hong Kong.

Air, waste and energy are central to its strategy, with a strategy of tackling the causes at source and, encouragingly, the focus isn’t just on the hardware but also on the software – working to promote behaviour change through social marketing.

There is a clear expectation from KS Wong that the University of Hong Kong has the opportunity to out perform the HK average in terms of waste, energy and air quality. The Air Quality Health Index is the first in Asia to adopt this approach to share health data to those vulnerable to air pollutant. Similar schemes exist in the UK.

Following the keynote from KS Wong it was great to hear from Mayor Park Won Soon from Seouol via video. As a renowned proponent of sustainability and has committed to its principles in the development of Seoul. He explicitly made the point that cities and universities must work together to achieve their collective goals both in terms of infrastructure and the development of its communities. Seoul has worked with many universities in South Korea to further these aims.

Fostering synergies between universities and cities is key to addressing climate change, urbanisation, water stress and working together to identify solutions for cities. Seoul recognises energy is a key issue and is taking a strategic approach to reduce dependency on nuclear through moves to reduce demand for electricity through efficiency drive and localised renewable investment. This has also created a surge in the growth for more sustainable energy services such as LED lighting creating wealth and employment. In Seoul, universities and hospitals are amongst the most energy intensive buildings in South Korea. The Government has invested in the universities themselves with a $40m to demonstrate leadership and to drive down consumption.

Throughout his address there was continued emphasis on the opportunity to stimulate and engage young people with innovative approaches to tackling urban challenges with an emphasis on civic responsibility. Again, financial incentives from the government have catalysed this engagement.

Civic engagement has been supported through a series of Town Hall meetings – inviting opinion and input to macro issues like energy. An association for 35 universities have combined to promote and develop green campuses. An energy cooperative has been formed to provide finance and reinvestment in renewable energy generation projects across Seoul.

Following those two plenary speeches a panel of experts presented and discussed the role of universities and cities in the 21st century.

Healthy high density cities is becoming an increasingly important factor for fast growing cities and a new research centre has been formed at HKU to address this very specific challenge between engineering and architecture and health professionals.

Aalto University is consolidating after the merger of 5 universities giving the opportunity to create an integrated campus/science park to work closer with business and industry. The design of the new campus is designed to positively encourage collaboration to support the strategic aim of integrated academic activities.


Aalto is working with Tangjin University in furthering its relationship with Asia.

The University aims at energy self-sufficiency by 2030 through energy generation on site and changing consumer behaviour. They are developing the most powerful geothermal system in the world with a 7km geothermal well to produce 10% of the city’s energy needs.

Sandy Burgoyne, Director Future Cities Collaborative, from The University of Sydney, spoke about how the research underway to inspire city leaders to develop sustainable cities. Policy, practice and people are at the heart of the programme and engage Mayors in developing their own understanding of sustainability. The model builds on the Mayors Institute in the USA and encourages Mayors to bring challenges forward and to work collaboratively with universities to solve these challenges. The programme is working at city scale – eg Paramatta and looking to identify solutions that are right for that city.

The universities involved in these kind of programmes can bring thought leadership, collaboration across government, industry, commerce and academia to show what is possible. The model works well for ‘real time’ responses to challenges at scale. 

The Chief Excecutive of MTR Corporation in Hong Kong, Lincoln Leong, gave an overview of the way in which the MTR system in HK has transformed the island. In an impressive and enthusiastic presentation he showed how Metro systems play an important role in urbanisation across the world.

In HK there are 221km of track, 5.4m passengers and provides almost half of all public transport journeys.

As a result of success in HK over the past 40 years they are now expanding into Australia, mainland China and Sweden. By providing this infrastructure can transform cities, connecting communities and creating opportunities to enhance communities – retail, business and industry.

The 3km extension of the network to the west of HK at the end of 2014 connected Hong Kong University into the whole island enabling greater access from east to west. Significant investment in lifts and escalators to service stations gave additional benefits to all communities to assist movement around the hilly terrain of the island.

Further expansion of the MTR is planned in HK to provide greater connectivity.

Edward Ng, Chinese University of Hong Kong, espoused the virtues of the intellectual contribution of the university to policy development in Hong Kong. As an example, the assessment of urban heat islands has helped shape thinking on energy and urban planning.

The opportunity to deliver sustainable energy solutions and reduce demand through improved behaviours. By installing values of sustainability into university education and encouraging sustainable values such that ‘convenience’ is recognised as costly.

Each speaker throughout their short sessions and in the discussion session supported the concept of universities and cities working much more effectively together at all scales – at the city scale, at the district/campus scale, at the organisational scale and with individuals and their communities.

So why doesn’t it happen more often? I suspect it is largely because the one to one relationships between leaders of both cities and universities haven’t invested enough in building an effective relationship on which to build this approach.

It’s good then that universities and cities are beginning to rebuild those relationships. Let’s not pretend it’s altruistic and philanthropic. Much of it in the UK, at least, is borne out of a restructured public sector that no longer has the intellectual capacity to develop and design policy in an era of ever increasing complexity and risk. Evidence, data and informed policy will maintain sustainable urban living.


Official – Time to Act on Air Quality in the UK

At last it’s official and there should be no hiding place for the UK in improving its air quality as Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that we now know, better than ever, what the causes of poor air quality are and what is needed to do it. Central to that is political will both at the national and local level. Unfortunately, therein lies the issue. Nationally there is reluctance to tell local authorities what to do and the trend has been to incentivise them to do the right thing through the provision of small pots of money to remedy dirty buses or encourage the uptake of electric vehicle charge points. Locally there has been real fear of appearing anti-car. It has meant local authorities have got themselves into a proper tangle with conflicting policies for regeneration and growth overriding policies to promote air quality.

Whilst the announcement is welcome, how convenient for it to come during Purdah such that no politician has been able to step up and take responsibility for the inaction of the current government or previous governments. Yes, this really has been a failing of both Labour and the Conservative / LibDem coalition. Instead a fairly weak comment from DEFRA A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent years and as this judgement recognises, work is already underway on revised plans (since February 2014) to meet EU targets on NO2 as soon as possible. “It has always been the government’s position to submit these plans before the end of this year. Meeting NO2 limits is a common challenge across Europe with 17 member states exceeding limits.” ClientEarth lawyers recently told a hearing that enforcement by the court was the only “effective remedy” for the UK’s “ongoing breach” of European Union law.

Previous blogs I have suggested what the solution might be. These words were drafted when I worked for the City Council in Sheffield, a city that has a better understanding of its air quality issues than most, but has yet to make any real inroads, despite some great things happening with EVs.

So, what’s the solution and who is charged with delivering it? Well, in truth there is no one solution – it will be a combination of many, many interventions. Every city taking this issue serviously will be looking at a range of options to tackle this problem – and some are easier to introduce than others. To inform those choices, it is important to understand in fine detail the sources of your air quality problem. Locally, we have undertaken an assessment of the vehicles running on Sheffield’s roads and have monitored emissions on key arterial routes to understand the actual (rather than modeled) emissions from passing vehicles. It is helping us to better understand whether all vehicles are equally responsible, or whether we need to target particular fleets (HGVs, buses, taxis, private vehicles, light goods, etc).

Despite all that, the solution is well understood. We need to move away from diesel towards ever increasing cleaner fuels. Increasingly, we see two short-medium term winners – for lighter vehicles electric hybrid and electric plug-in solutions are likely to fair well and, given the improvement in battery technology and capacity the concept of ‘range anxiety’ (that awful fear that you might be left stranded somewhere without a hope of plugging-in) will become a thing of the past. More and more of these lighter vehicles appear to have switched from petrol to diesel in recent years as subsequent UK policy incentivised the uptake of diesel through reduced road tax as a way of reducing carbon emissions. For once, what’s been good for carbon dioxde (and only very marginally) hasn’t been good for local air quality.

For heavier vehicles, electric is less likely to play a significant role for some time to come, the smart money is on the use of gas as an alternative to diesel. Whilst governments across the world are now faced with the prospect of fracking shale gas, provided there is a (more) sustainable solution, such as biogas, this could be a significant player. Of course, the concept of range anxiety still remains, so investment in gas refuelling technology is essential if gas is to see widespread adoption. Networks of gas refuelling stations on key routes on motorways and arterial roads and in depots up and down the country will be needed and public intervention is needed to achieve this.

Across South Yorkshire we have identified a number of key sites for the development of gas refuelling infrastructure and are working with the fleet operators and the industry more generally to begin its development. Over coming weeks and months, I’ll post updates on this important programme of work.

 

An Honest Look at Oneself: The State of Sheffield 2015

Today saw Sheffield publish its annual ‘State of Sheffield’ report – reflecting on progress (or otherwise) and how Sheffield sits in comparison to other cities in the UK and around the world. It’s another fine example of reflective, evidence-based research that stimulates thinking and informs policy making. You can read the blog produced by the Director of the the Sheffield First partnership here: https://sheffieldfirst.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/the-state-of-sheffield-2015/

What did prompt me to write this blog was the statement “Climate change remains a major future challenge. Sheffield and its City Region has the “green capital” to be a leader in this area but needs to work to strengthen its response. The Green Commission will be important in this.”

Yes, climate change and the exhaustion of finite natural resources should be of concern to Sheffield. To ignore this would be entirely folly and would undermine the unsustainable economic quest the city and city region has set itself. Climate change magnifies and amplifies the negative impacts our poorest communities are already experiencing. Three years ago the Director of Public Health in Sheffield made it very clear: If you live down wind, down stream or down hill you’ll suffer worst. From poor air quality, poor water quality, poorer soils and flooding.

But most importantly is the emphasis placed on the Green Commission in providing a coherent response to this challenge. Perhaps the single biggest set of external factors (climate change, global energy markets, deforestation, acidification, habitat loss) directly and indirectly affecting the city are being chewed over by a select group of experts. The initiator of this process, Cllr Jack Scott, has stood down from his position, leaving a new and inexperienced Cabinet Member in Cllr Jayne Dunn to come in and pick up the reins. Attendance, by the looks of it, has been patchy and the conclusions well, inconclusive, so far.

I am pleased that the annual report in to Sheffield’s health has, again, identified environmental issues as important. I am not optimistic there is sufficient architecture and commitment in place to address it though.