New UK air quality plan revises NO2 compliance forecasts

A new air quality plan was launched for consultation by Defra today (September 12), with expected dates for compliance with EU objectives for NO2 brought forward in many areas of the UK.

The government is seeking views on is draft UK air quality plan

The government is seeking views on is draft UK air quality plan

Open until November 6 2015, the eight-week consultation sets out revised projections for when the UK’s 43 zones will reach compliance with EU legislative limits for nitrogen dioxide, suggesting that if no additional action is taken, as many as 35 zones will be compliant within the next five years.

It also sets out a number of actions being planned at local, regional and national levels to meet the annual and hourly EU limits values for nitrogen dioxide in “the shortest possible time”, and highlights major cities such as London, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Southampton and Derby as particular challenges.

The headline policy outlined in the plan is for a national framework of local Clean Air Zones, which sets out suggested emissions limits for several road vehicle types for implementation by local authorities.

Encouraging the uptake and boosting infrastructure for low emissions and electric vehicles is also at the forefront of measures in the new plan, outlining a number of investment schemes for new technology.

However, it also emphasises the importance of more generally reducing congestion on roads, outlining road improvements and studies to be undertaken as part of the planned £100 million roads investment strategy over the next six years.

In addition, it highlights the need to tackle air pollution from buildings, shipping, aviation, freight and by further electrification of railways, while also setting out policies to encourage more cycling and to further raise awareness of air quality.

On aviation specifically, the plan states that the government is “considering carefully” air quality issues with regards to a decision on increasing UK airport capacity, which the Airports Commission has controversially recommended should come via the an additional runway at Heathrow.

Documents published for consultation today include a draft UK overview report as well as 38 individual plan documents for individual zones.

Elizabeth Truss first joined Defra in 2014

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss first joined Defra in 2014

Launching the new plan, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said her ambition was “to make the UK a country with some of the very best air quality in the world – a cleaner, healthier environment will benefit both people and our economy”.

She said:

“Tackling air pollution is a priority for this government, and we want local authorities and members of the public to come forward and share ideas on action to be taken at national and local level to make our nation cleaner. From improving bus and taxi fleets to investing in cycling infrastructure and upgrading roads so they run more smoothly, we want to work with our great cities and help them make changes to become better still.”

The consultation applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A separate consultation is being carried out by the Scottish Government , starting on Monday (September 14).

NO2 compliance

Current EU legislation states that levels of nitrogen dioxide in Member States must not exceed 40 microgrammes per cubic metre (ugm3) on average in one year, and must also not exceed 200ugm3 over the course of one hour on more than 18 occasions in one year.

These limits were supposed to met in 2010, or 2015 if an extension was agreed with the EU.

Defra now expects 35 UK zones to be compliant with EU nitrogen dioxide limits by 2020 if no additional action is taken. However, when including measures outlined in the plan launched today, compliance is expected in all UK zones by 2020, apart from Greater London, where compliance would be projected by 2025.

This contrasts with Defra’s previous projection published just last year in July 2014 that 28 zones would still be non-compliant by 2020, with compliance in Greater London not expected until after 2030.

Euro 5 and Euro 6 revised performance

As well as taking into consideration additional measures included in the new plan, the compliance dates have also been revised due to “updated information on vehicle emission factors”.

According to the document:

“The most significant changes impacting on the projection are a revised assessment of the performance of both Euro 5 and Euro 6 light duty diesel vehicles and a significant drop in the expected emissions from Euro VI heavy duty vehicles; early independent evidence has already demonstrated that the newest lorries and buses are emitting significantly less NOx. There are also other factors such as changes in fleet composition.”

However, the document notes that none of the compliance modelling includes any impact from forthcoming EU real world emissions testing equipment for light duty vehicles, which is currently being finalised at EU level and is expected to be introduced in 2017 at the earliest.

The plan adds: “Due to the sensitivity of the modelling to the delivery of real world emissions improvements from the Euro 6 and 6c standards, it will be important to monitor the performance of Euro 6 vehicles as they come to market. The government will therefore investigate the most appropriate way of obtaining this data.”

Clean Air Zones

Defra plans to set out a full framework for its proposed Clean Air Zones (CAZ) policy in early 2016 – similar to the often-mooted national low emission framework supported by the Labour Party at the last General Election – which would set emissions standards for vehicles to achieve within a zone or face a “charge or other restriction appropriate to the type of vehicle”.

The CAZs would divide charges and restrictions by vehicles type, and the plan sets out proposed NOx emission standards for bus/coaches and heavy goods vehicles (0.4 g/kWh), vans (0.125g/km) and cars/light commercial vehicles (0.08g/km).

The plan explains that a national framework is needed because “different approaches in different cities can lead to conflicting signals to consumers” which makes it “difficult for businesses that operate across a number of cities to make straightforward, economic and operational decisions”.

The framework is designed for use by local authorities “that decide emissions based access controls are the most effective solution for them to meet the limit values for NO2” but could also be used by councils that “have already implemented control areas”.

“This means that if a network of emissions based access controls develops across the country, businesses and individuals will be able to make decision against consistent criteria”, it explains.

Related Links:

Defra UK air quality plan consultation.