How AIR can help the air quality crisis 13 Jun 2018

Today, countries, regions and cities globally are being put under intense pressure to clean up their urban air quality, with a number of cities facing fines for breaching air quality limits. Policy makers understand that the cleanliness of urban air that citizens breathe is of critical importance, and are developing their own ways to tackle poor air quality. However, many methods are not as effective as they could be, and contradict policies in other cities, leading to confusion and uncertainty among consumers.

There are many reasons for this amid a long-unresolved debate on how the current situation arose. However, what is generally accepted is that many new cars are still emitting more on the road than they do in laboratory tests.

Automakers and national regulators have addressed the difference between laboratory and on-road emissions. New EU legislation that includes a component of on-road testing, being implemented between September 2017 and 2021, will ensure a similar situation does not arise in the future. However, cities have an urgent need to find a fair way to reduce emissions from cars currently entering their cities. The current European standards, which apply to new cars being sold today, do not provide cities with adequate information, particularly for nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, to differentiate between cars. Having a way to identify high and low emitting vehicles can allow cities to set policy to have the best chance of improving their air quality.

What is the answer?

It may be tempting for policy makers to consider simply banning all diesel vehicles from entering their cities because of their contribution to the breach of urban air quality levels, particularly NOx. This is one way to avoid the information limitations of existing EU emissions standards when trying to improve urban air quality. The problem with banning all diesel cars is that a good number of diesels are now incredibly clean, emitting the same amount of NOx on the road as a petrol or hybrid car. If cities ban diesel it doesn’t just mean cars–almost all vans trucks, buses and taxis run on diesel as well. This will increase CO2 emissions significantly.

The problem cities face isn’t about fuel type, or even the age of the vehicle–it’s that they need to fairly compare the emissions from vehicles and implement policy that is fair and effective.

This is where AIR (Allow Independent Road-testing) can help.

Tackling air quality with a unified approach

AIR is a new global alliance that has been established to promote the voluntary adoption of an independent, on-road vehicle emissions testing and ratings system, targeting immediate improvements in air pollution.

AIR is calling on cities, vehicle manufacturers and testing facilities to unite in the fight for better air quality across Europe and the world. AIR’s exclusive access to a database of independent, on-road emissions ratings for the majority of cars on sale today–available to all AIR members–can help all parties improve air quality. AIR membership can assist city policy makers and regulators in developing effective, fair and robust policies to improve air quality in the short-term for the benefit of health in their urban communities and in the long-term; benefitting local and national air quality. Meanwhile, AIR’s data can also help car makers regain consumer trust by showing that they are delivering genuinely clean cars.

If automakers are able to reduce emissions from cars already on the road, it could prevent the resale value of high emitting cars from falling. This could help automakers to win back the trust of consumers who may be driving a car that is excluded from a city. For automakers to show that any retrofitting has been effective, an independent test to show the reduction is essential. Consumers and cities can trust that a test, fully independent of the automaker, can show that their vehicle is no longer part of the urban air quality problem.

Membership of AIR allows city policy makers to benefit from the collective efforts of many stakeholders who are tackling public concerns over air quality and climate change.

By contrast, car safety through crash testing has reached a high standard never imagined possible through the principle of independent testing and competition between manufacturers. Current car safety far exceeds the requirements in place that resulted directly from national policy. AIR is calling on automakers to use the same principle they applied to safety to ensure cars today are the cleanest they can possibly be.

AIR also aims to widen research, analysis and understanding about all vehicle emissions. AIR encourages collaboration and the exchange of best practices among industry, public authorities, relevant stakeholders and research institutes. In doing so, the alliance gains access to cutting-edge technology related to emissions control and testing. AIR strives to ensure its data is comparable, accessible, standardised, independent and immediate.

Encouraging cities to become members of AIR

For city regulators and policy makers, joining AIR provides immediate access to its growing on-road emissions results database for more than 1,500 different cars and light commercial vehicles on the road and on sale in Europe today. City regulators can fairly evaluate the on-road emissions of vehicles entering their cities and, importantly, the vehicle fleet purchased, owned or managed by the city.

Cities can immediately adapt to improve urban air quality with informed policy for their future vehicle fleet purchasing and management. By using independent, comparable vehicle emissions results, AIR enables cities to implement policy to improve air quality, while not impeding the free movement of goods within the EU.

AIR operates entirely independently of the automotive industry and is able to support the use of ‘open-source’ independent on-road emissions testing. AIR has licensed access to more than 10 million data points; emissions results and ratings for vehicles on the road and on sale in Europe today. Consumers, regulators and automakers already recognise that AIR’s data provides a fair and comparative evaluation of each vehicle’s on-the-road NOx, CO2 and particulate matter (including Particulate Number (PN)) emissions. By providing information on fuel economy and CO2 emissions, regulators are still also able to focus on climate change reduction policy.

Encouraging NGOs, businesses as well as cities to join, the founding member of the AIR scheme was the Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK), a non-profit public interest research entity, established with the aim of achieving excellence in the application of science and technology. Its ‘Future Built on Knowledge’ philosophy aligns with AIR’s central principle of using independent on-road emissions data to make informed policy and manufacturing decisions for cleaner air.

Cenex (The Centre of Excellence for low carbon and fuel cell technologies) and Energy Saving Trust (EST) have recently also become members of AIR. Both members are driven by the aim of improving air quality in towns and cities, and their backing of AIR emphasises its credentials as a leading body in the fight to reduce harmful vehicle emissions.

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