Will High Court ruling act as a wake-up call on air pollution?

Opinion: Paul, Blacklock, head of corporate affairs for gas-supplier Calor looks at the road ahead following the High Court ruling over the government’s air quality plan.

The news that ClientEarth has won its High Court case against the government over its failure to tackle illegal air pollution across the UK, will hopefully act as the wake-up call that the UK government needs to find solutions to the serious air quality issues we are facing.

Paul Blacklock, head of corporate affairs and strategy, Calor Gas

Paul Blacklock, head of corporate affairs and strategy, Calor Gas

The government could appeal against the ruling but if it fails to change the decision, it will need to produce a new and effective plan to tackle air pollution, which has broken EU legal limits since 2010.

This ruling marks the second time in 18 months ministers have lost in court on this critical issue of air pollution. Whilst it is a day for celebration, especially for ClientEarth and city-dwellers, it cannot be ignored that in the UK an estimated 50,000 deaths a year* are being linked to outdoor air pollution – much of it from diesel vehicles. In a case of unintended consequences, part of the solution to reduce the environmental impact of vehicles was to switch to diesel, as it has lower carbon emissions. However, its particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions are high and result in localised, very poor air quality.

Documents revealed during the most recent legal case have suggested that the Treasury had prevented the rolling out of plans to charge diesel cars to enter towns and cities suffering from air pollution, which is a serious concern. I can only agree with ClientEarth’s recommendation that every city across the UK should have its air pollution kept at bay by the means of Clean Air Zones (CAZs), rather than just six, as proposed by the government.

Options

In my view, there is no one silver bullet to solve this problem. We need to look at all options, those which are available now as well as longer terms options. Electric and hydrogen vehicle deployment is definitely part of the solution, but it is not possible for these methods to address the air quality crisis quickly enough. It is vital that other, immediate and cost-effective clean vehicle technology options are considered and promoted.

We at Calor are of course pleased that LPG is finally being recognised as part of the wider solution to tackle the problem, as supported by the IPPR at its most recent report. There is an existing nationwide refuelling network of over 1,400 LPG filling stations and the vehicle technology is already well developed and understood. However, one of the issues is that factory fitted LPG vehicles are not available in this country, despite being widely available in Europe, the USA and the Far East.

LPG truly offers an extremely quick and low cost solution to addressing air quality issues, which is what the UK government needs. LPG engines emit 99% less particulate matter and 80% less NOx, than an average diesel engine on the road today.

LPG

LPG fuel

LPG vehicles could offer an alternative to diesel that does not lead to dangerous emission levels, Calor claims

An early example of LPG in action comes from the Labour-controlled Birmingham city council where 63 diesel-powered black cabs are being converted to run on LPG – this is in line with the city’s NOx Reduction Champions project. Toyota also has an Electric/LPG hybrid, the JPN Taxi, which will be sold to Tokyo’s taxi drivers from 2018 for only c£16,000. At present, 90% of Tokyo’s taxis run on LPG.

Calor already has a converted diesel taxi on the streets of London so it can get approval from the Public Carriage Office later this autumn. When complete, it will be available as an option to London’s cabbies who are already up against it with the challenge of Uber.

Cost

The London Mayor has already announced plans to even up the playing field and we are hopeful that he will do more to support cabbies move from diesel to LPG to get cleaner taxis which are cheaper to run.

LPG is also future proof. In the Spring of 2017, we have bioLPG landing in Britain for the first time. This means that, not only can vehicles have much lower emissions of particulates and NOx, but also a much lower carbon footprint too, helping to tackle the global challenge of climate change.

These developments should all work towards cleaner and safer air for us all to breathe and to prevent any further legal actions being taken against a Government that are supposed to be protecting us from harm.

*KCL air quality report 2016