• 15 June 2017

National Clean Air Day – why should I care and why should I participate in this National Event?

Guido Pellizzaro, our Associate Air Quality Director, has recently joined the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Air Pollution. In light of National Clean Air Day, he provides insight into why we should make an effort.

If you Google the impact of air quality on health you will be quoted with the numbers of deaths caused by poor air quality; the number of years that life expectancy is predicted to be reduced due to poor air quality; and the ongoing health related issues because of exposure to poor air quality.

Air pollution is contributing to about 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK. However, as individuals seeing these hard-hitting facts I think you’d agree that we feel removed from the real effects air quality can have (unless your breathing or general wellbeing is effected on high pollution days). I speak in general terms, but we take no individual accountability for our own behaviour when it comes to improving air quality. It is always someone else’s responsibility.

Due to increased media attention, there is now an interest in air quality and a genuine concern about the air we breathe, yet to improve air quality we do not want to make any lifestyle changes. As an example, a friend living in London recently told me that her health is always poor in London but as soon she leaves the City she sees an improvement in her breathing.

During this conversation, there was no realisation that her own actions were contributing to the air she is breathing. Driving the children to school is just more convenient; using an old diesel scooter to get to work is quicker than public transport; using a log burner at the weekend in winter looks nice. I can sympathise with these points, but who is then responsible for the air we breathe?

For years (and even now), air quality consultants have been provided by Defra with future predicted emission forecasts for the UK which show year on year improvements in atmospheric pollutants. These improvements are linked to the likely effect of improved vehicle emissions; new technology for industrial plants; less polluting energy plants; and toughened regulations. According to Defra, by doing nothing we will have better air quality in the UK. Whilst, air quality monitoring data trends by reference have shown no or little improvements in the UK year on year. Even with these monitoring results there has been no step change by the Government to act quickly to improve air quality.

The UK Government is very aware of the negative reaction that will arise from a change in more onerous policy to improve air quality. For example, such Government policy which would urge individuals to change their behaviour could include charging high emission vehicles from entering urban areas of poor air quality; banning diesel vehicles from cities all together (a legal requirement made by a High Court ruling for non-compliance against health-related objectives in Hamburg); implementing a scrappage scheme by offering financial incentives to scrap older diesel vehicles; and aligning vehicle tax with NOx/PM emissions. These types of actions have not been implemented to date by the UK Government. This non- committal attitude in the UK is also demonstrated by the delay in the latest Air Quality Plan to improve NO2 in the UK, which was only published after Client Earth won their third legal challenge against the UK Government (Defra wanted to delay its publication until after the election).

The latest Air Quality Plan fails to undertake immediate actions but includes actions such as “exploring the appropriate tax treatment for diesel vehicle” (note the VW Scandal began in September 2015 and 2 years later the Government are still exploring options to improve diesel emissions). I can only assume that the lack of action from the UK Government is due to a fear of a public backlash, alienating motorist groups and estranging businesses.

As individuals, we are currently continuing our daily tasks without paying much attention to how we are contributing to air pollution. As part of the UK’s first National Clean Air Day, take ownership and make a pledge to undertake a task which will have a benefit on air quality and your own health. It is not someone else’s responsibility, it is our own.

You could pledge to leave your car at home, switch off your engine whenever you can, walk to work or share tips with others. For further ideas, visit the National Clean Air Day website.

Waterman will be joining the social media campaign on #NationalCleanAirDay. Connect with us to find out what our very own staff are doing in light of this day.

This is a great opportunity to learn more about air pollution and take action to make the air cleaner and healthier for everyone.

Guido’s appointment as an Associate Member of the APPG brings Waterman’s Air Quality Team to the forefront of supporting and contributing to emerging changes to air quality policy, legislation and guidance in Britain, and this knowledge will in turn be used to support our clients.

The APPG on Air Pollution is a bespoke all-party group within the Houses of Parliament responsible for improving and demonstrating Britain’s commitment to its air quality. They will focus on policy surrounding the issue and engage with regulators, parliamentarians, policy makers, campaign groups and industry in their efforts to clean up Britain’s air.

To read more about their work, please click here.

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