The real Bill for Clean Air
The price of just talking about Clean Air legislation is paid for in poor health and dirty urban air
By Nick Molden, Co-Founder of AIR
16 October 2019: Last month, Massimo Fedeli and I, as Co-founders of the AIR Alliance co-signed a letter with other leading air quality campaigners to The Times calling for a new Clean Air Bill to be introduced in the UK enshrining the right to clean air.
We were pleased on Monday of this week to hear the UK government announce plans for an Environment Bill in the Queen’s Speech. However, the next steps are much more difficult to move from clean air rhetoric to air quality reality, and this requires investment in both resources and political commitment to make the tough calls needed to deliver real change.
As most air pollutants are invisible, poor air quality is a cause of poor health and early death that is easy to underestimate, and easy for policy makers to ignore. Black puffs of smoke from old bangers no longer represent the big contributors to bad air quality. It is the imperceptible gases and particles often from very recent petrol and diesels cars that are prone to being ignored. An Environment Bill with powerful provisions can have the effect of defining the health outcomes we all want, thereby forcing us to confront these invisible toxins.
The biggest threat to taking urgent, effective action to improve air quality is for policy makers and the industry to focus exclusively on electric vehicles as a panacea. They are a mid- to long-term solution and simply cannot deliver a realistic short term because they are not available at scale. The blunt truth is that the European regulatory framework for pollutant emissions has failed in respect of nitrogen oxides – the Dieselgate gas – and the consequences of this must be tackled head on, now. It means that vehicles of a variety of regulatory stages, but crucially including the latest Euro 6, cover the whole range from very clean to very dirty. Yet, all sides cling to this failed regime as the perceived costs of doing anything else are too high. Making policy just to deal with the dirty ones is more difficult than more eye-catching policies, even if they will turn out to be more expensive for consumer and taxpayers. This is the real Bill for Clean Air.
To unravel this problem, the first stage is the call to address the problem of the health effects of air pollution, enshrining it in law. That will then force a solution that actually works, rather than one that is convenient and sounds good.
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The AIR alliance focuses on four key areas of activity:
Insight: Deepening research and understanding about vehicle emissions, testing and applications to reducing harmful impacts.
Coalition: Encouraging collaboration among industry players, public authorities and relevant stakeholders on key activities to improve air quality.
Campaigning: Supporting the development and improvement of mobility infrastructure to have a positive impact on air quality.
Empowerment: Promoting the link between vehicle choices and air quality with actionable information.
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