Minister praises ‘significant’ Scottish air quality improvement

Scotland’s environment minister has praised “significant progress” on reducing air pollution since 1990, with a new report showing emissions of most pollutants continued to fall in 2013.

The Scottish Parliament buildings in Holyrood, Edinburgh

The Scottish Parliament buildings in Holyrood, Edinburgh

But, responding to a report published last week (September 11) – ‘Air Quality Pollutant Inventories for England, Scotland, Wales and Nothern Ireland: 1990-2013’ – Aileen McLeod said that “more needs to be done” to improve air quality in Scotland.

The report, by UK government contractors Ricardo-AEA, shows levels of ammonia, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), particulate matter PM10, sulphur dioxide and lead have all declined since 1990 up to the latest available year of data in 2013.

In particular, the report notes that NOx emissions have ‘declined notably since 2007, due primarily, to the installation of de-NOx abatement systems (Boosted Over-Fire Air) on all four units at Longannet coal-fired power station and also at Cockenzie power station (which then closed in 2013)”.

According to the report, such abatement systems reduced NOx emissions formed during coal combustion by up to 25%.

However, the report also shows that in more recent years the rate of reduction for several pollutants – such as NMVOCs, PM10 and ammonia – has slowed. The report highlights increasing quantities of domestic wood burning as a factor in flatlining PM10 emission levels.

Furthermore, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s claimed earlier this year that there was “little sign of improvement” on air quality in 2014 after its own research suggested levels of NO2 and PM10 had actually increased slightly at several monitoring sites (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Commenting on the latest findings, Scotland’s environment minister Dr McLeod said: “Air pollution is harmful to human health and can contribute to climate change, and I very much welcome the significant progress that has been made reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides and other air pollutants in Scotland.

“However, more needs to be done. The Scottish Government is already working closely with local authorities and other partners to improve air quality and the lives and well-being of communities and individuals across the country.

“Local authorities with air quality issues in their areas have in place local action plans to improve the situation which can include measures such as promoting of walking and cycling, for example, or greater use of cleaner vehicles. And the forthcoming national Low Emission Strategy – which we consulted on earlier this year – will ensure greater consistency in approach across Scotland.”

NO2 consultation

The report findings come as the Scottish Government also seeks public views over both a general UK-wide air quality plan to meet EU NO2 limits and four plans for specific areas of Scotland.

Launched this week (September 14), the consultation is aimed at meeting EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide “in the shortest possible time”, following the Supreme Court’s ruling in April 2015 that a new UK air quality plan must be submitted to the EU by the end of the year.

Consultation documents include of a UK-wide action plan as well as zonal plans for Edinburgh, Glasgow, central Scotland and North East Scotland – the four Scottish zones where NO2 limits are being exceeded. These plans are updated versions of plans originally submitted to the European Commission in 2011.

The UK plan includes reference to Scotland’s Low Emission Strategy launched earlier this year (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Launched alongside Defra’s consultation on draft air quality plans for the UK which also started this week (see AirQualityNews.com story), the Scottish Government’s six-week consultation runs until November 9 2015.

Related Links:

Report: ‘Air Quality Pollutant Inventories for England, Scotland, Wales and Nothern Ireland: 1990-2013’
Scottish Government air quality plan consultation