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

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.

 

Liverpool’s Commission on Environmental Sustainability Reports

I have written about three cities in England setting up ‘commissions’ to review their aspirations, plans and resources to ensure they are sustainable in previous blogs. In January 2015 I wrote about those three commissions and their ‘one’ outcome. “Faced with depleting local authority resources and in times of change – both in terms of political leadership, centralisation vs devolution, economic challenge and environmental change – can ‘commissions’ such as those set up in Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool help shape the future strategic direction of a city’s commitment to environmental sustainability?” 

The key question I asked in that blog was What should be the role of the Council? in those cities. My conclusion was that a strong city council leader will attempt to deliver against all three in both the short, medium and longer term. Perhaps the only chance they have of doing that is in partnership with other public, private and their sector partners with a healthy challenge from academia.

So, it’s encouraging, as Liverpool’s Commission led by Professor Nigel Weatherill, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of Liverpool John Moores University, reported its findings yesterday and made a very clear statement of intent that the Mayor would lead this agenda and facilitate integrated cross-boundary and cross-agency working to bring this to fruition.

I was invited to give evidence to the Commission last year and I am delighted that some of the observations I made have been endorsed and incorporated into the recommendations of the report. In particular, I was pleased to see that the Commission recognises the City of Liverpool is not an island – it has to work collaboratively with its neighbouring authorities and its economic area. The role of the LEP and any city region is crucial to this. It clearly recognises that economic wellbeing is underpinned by an approach that supports and understands the wider sustainability agenda.

Whilst you might expect transport, energy and waste to feature it was pleasing to see emphasis placed on the role of the City’s universities and of education, engagement and behavioural change. These areas are out of the comfort zone of most local authorities, so it is pleasing to see these recommendations published. Of course, we look forward to seeing how cash-constrained local authorities might respond to this challenge.

Finally, it was particularly pleasing to see the link made between a smarter, digital city and one that was sustainable. Almost all of the Core Cities are building links between these two strategic objectives. Notably Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester. I trust Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle will follow suit.

The recommendations are set out below and the full report is available.

1. Environmental issues cut across political boundaries and timescales
1.1 The Mayor should seek a commitment from our local political leaders for a single unified vision for an environmentally sustainable City Region.
1.2 The Mayor should appoint a Director of Environmental Sustainability to report directly to him with resources and authority to be effective.
1.3 The Mayor should work with his counterparts across the North of England and propose a Northern Commission on Environmental Sustainability. The terms of reference should mirror those set for this Commission.

2. Maximise economic benefits from renewable resources
2.1 An integrated sustainable energy strategy must be initiated by the Mayor.
2.2 The Mayor should establish a team to explore options for a Liverpool municipal or city-wide community energy company.
3. An integrated transport system for the future
3.1 A strategy to deliver an integrated, innovative and sustainable transport system must be developed and implemented. This strategy must meet the demands of a growing population in a modern, dynamic and
economically thriving city and address:
• Improved airport, port and city connectivity for vehicles and citizens
• Integrated smart ticketing across all modes of transport
• Easier personal accessibility to some railway stations
• Park and ride facilities
3.2 The Mayor should call on the Combined Authority and Merseytravel to
immediately begin the process to take back control of the bus network.

3.3 The Mayor must take action to ensure Liverpool’s roads are safe for
cyclists with protected cycle lanes and other solutions to increase the
safety of cycling.

4. Education and engagement drives behavioural change
4.1 The Mayor must work in a visible way with community leaders to communicate the vision, debate the issues and task leaders to raise awareness of environmental sustainability within the fabric of the city.

4.2 The Mayor should bring together educational leaders and task them with raising the awareness and understanding of the importance of environmental sustainability and the inevitable changes that are required
in our society.
4.3 The Mayor must task the universities and colleges to develop a joint International Research Centre for Environmentally Sustainable Cities.
4.4 The Mayor should work with health and educational professionals to help raise the profile of the importance of the environment and sustainability to personal wellbeing.
4.5 The Mayor must create a digital vision for Liverpool that can become the platform for social media and other forms to communicate, engage and help deliver a smart, green city.
5. Quality of place matters
5.1 The City Council should adopt a ‘Meanwhile Use’ strategy for plots of available land across the city.
5.2 The Mayor must ensure that local people are involved in the review of Liverpool’s green spaces.
5.3 The Mayor should bring forward a green corridor strategy and as an exemplar should take action to pedestrianise areas within the Knowledge Quarter and monitor impact.
6. Redefine waste as a resource
6.1 The Mayor should request a full review of waste collection to improve recycling rates and improve cleanliness all at a reduced cost.
6.2 The Mayor should call for an integrated waste strategy that transcends political boundaries and recognises waste as a valuable resource to be developed as a matter of great urgency.

7. Securing our future
7.1 The Mayor should request an integrated appraisal of the whole of the infrastructure in Liverpool with consideration given to factors inherent in an historic city.
7.2 The Mayor should work collaboratively with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and sector leaders to explore innovative inward investment opportunities to support business growth and economic prosperity.
8. The Liverpool of the future
8.1 The Mayor should invite local organisations to continue the discussion and keep the debate alive and should instigate an annual event to benchmark and monitor progress as Liverpool navigates its way towards
environmental sustainability.

Driverless public transport will change our approach to city planning – and living

Great article by Stephen Potter,  Professor of Transport Strategy at The Open University:

Driverless public transport will change our approach to city planning – and living.

Just a couple of years ago, driverless cars were viewed as little more than a geekish techno-fantasy. But the entry of tech behemoth Google has produced an autonomous car that is now very close to entering the market.

Test-running on streets in the US has been underway for some time and they will be street legal in the UK from the start of 2015. To start this process rolling, a series of small-scale UK city trials has been recently announced.

Greenwich in London will have an autonomous tourist passenger shuttle, and autonomous valet parking for specially adapted cars. Milton Keynes and Coventry will host the UK Autodrive programme, and the Venturer consortium in Bristol will examine the effects of autonomous cars on congestion and road-traffic safety.