New inter-departmental ministerial “Clean Growth” committee to be set up, on air pollution

The FT reports that David Cameron has set up a new inter-departmental ministerial committee to look at air pollution issues. Oliver Letwin will chair cross-party meetings of the “Clean Growth” committee. Its remit will include vehicle emissions, climate change and green energy. This activity has been sparked by the VW scandal of “defeat” devices in cars, designed to give artificially low NO2 readings when cars are tested. There are fears of losses for the car industry if the problem is not contained. People have known for years that the theoretical figures for fuel efficiency of cars were artificially good, and that is now also shown to be deliberately influenced. The DfT is known to have been aware of the problems with NO2 emissions from diesel cars since October 2014, but done nothing.  As well as Oliver Letwin, others on the Committee will be Sajid Javid, business secretary; Liz Truss, environment secretary; Amber Rudd, energy secretary; and transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.  The FT says it is not clear if the Committee would deal with air pollution from a potential Heathrow 3rd runway. Stephen Joseph, of Campaign for Better Transport, hoped the committee would mean the government would take air pollution  more seriously and develop an effective cross-Whitehall strategy.



David Cameron sets up committee to tackle air quality



However, it is not clear if projected emissions from a potential Heathrow third runway will fall under the auspices of the new group if the project is authorised by the government this year.

Stephen Joseph, head of the Campaign for Better Transport, welcomed the new task force if it meant that the government would take air pollution seriously and developing a proper cross-Whitehall strategy.

“The VW scandal has shown that future pollution levels are likely to be far higher than the government was expecting, which means that any strategy must give real powers and funding to cities to get pollution levels down,” he said.


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David Cameron has been accused of failing to give an international lead in tackling air pollution and climate change.

29.10.2015 (Jersey Evening Post)
Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott warned the Lords it was “crazy” to cut subsidies for renewable energy.

He said the Government was doing “absolutely nothing” to tackle emissions from cars, adding: “It’s green crap according to our Prime Minister.”

Peers were debating climate change ahead of a summit in Paris in December when at least 80 world leaders, including from the US and China, are tasked with agreeing a global climate pact.

Lord Prescott, who led for Britain in negotiating a similar agreement in Kyoto in 1997, said the signs for agreement in Paris looked good.

But, stressing the need for a “global solution to a global problem, he attacked “negative factors,” including those who still questioned the science behind climate change.

Lord Prescott said the Government had a direct responsibility for air quality and its impact on health but the Tory Government had abandoned its leadership role and “no longer leads in Europe”.

With thousands dying each year from air pollution in London alone according to a study, Lord Prescott said: “That’s more people dying from air quality than from obesity, alcohol, tobacco…..”

After the VW emissions scandal and growing concern about the impact of diesel cars on pollution, he added: “What is the Government doing about it – absolutely nothing. They aren’t giving any leadership.

“It’s about time the Government changed its position and started joining the rest of the world community in doing something about climate change.”

Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves warned of a “total reversal” of green policies since the Tories came to power with a majority after the coalition years.

He said ministers were going down the “wrong track” and making the Government the “least green government” for a long time.

Opening the debate, Labour’s Lord Hunt of Chesterton, a former professor of climate modelling, urged ministers to adopt stronger environmental policies to tackle climate change and cut greenhouse gases.

Lord Hunt said he had experienced “uncomfortable” air pollution in London earlier this year at a level not seen since the 1950s.
and it continues …


Revealed: British ministers tried to block EU moves to clean up air quality

By Daniel Boffey and Frances Perraudin (Observer)

Sunday 27 September 2015


The British government sought to block new EU legislation that would force member states to carry out surprise checks on the emissions of cars, raising fresh questions over ministers’ attitude to air pollution and their conduct in the Volkswagen scandal.

A document obtained by the Observer reveals that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been advising British MEPs to vote against legislation that would oblige countries to carry out “routine and non-routine” inspections on vehicles’ “real-world” emissions.

The revelation will add to the growing concerns over the government’s commitment to tackling air pollution. It follows the admission last week that the Department for Transport had ignored significant evidence of the fraudulent practices being employed by the car industry when this was sent to it a year ago.

About 29,000 deaths in the UK are hastened by inhalation of minute particles of oily, unburnt soot emitted by all petrol engines and an estimated 23,500 by the invisible but toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) discharged by diesel engines.

Volkswagen has been engulfed in a scandal after it emerged that some of its diesel cars had been fitted with devices that could detect when they were being tested, concealing the real level of pollutants being emitted by them when on the road.

Now it has emerged that Defra has been lobbying against part of a proposed EU directive that would force member states to establish national testing regimes to catch out those who tried to conceal the damage they were doing. The proposed legislation – the national emissions ceiling directive – is designed to “ensure that policies and measures are effective in delivering emission reductions under real operating conditions”, according to the European commission.

A Defra briefing document circulated among European parliamentarians in July, and seen by the Observer, says that, while the British government agrees in principle to the need for tough checks to enforce emission limits of NO2, MEPs should vote against the imposition on member states of “market surveillance and environmental inspections” as the legislation is unclear and legally unnecessary.

The British government has been seeking to water down legislation in the directive which seeks to limit the emission of a series of pollutants other than NO2, including methane and ammonia. Officials claim that some of the measures proposed would unnecessarily increase the “administrative burden for industry and government”, according to the briefing paper. The European parliament is due to vote on the proposals at the end of October.

Alan Andrews, a lawyer based in Brussels for ClientEarth, a firm of environmental legal experts, said ministers were not matching their rhetoric with action. He said: “It is politically easy to say you agree in principle with reducing emissions, but without the mechanisms to enforce the law companies will breach it with impunity.

“The government says it supports in principle measures to ensure that the Euro 6 standard [current emissions rules] for diesel delivers real-world emissions cuts. But this clause they oppose is about a broader principle – requiring member states to have proper inspection and systems in place at the national level to ensure that technologies, products and pollution-reduction measures are really delivering reductions in the real world.

“This is important because it applies across the board, not just to diesel cars. We need to know that measures to cut pollution from farms, ships, trains, tractors etc are all doing what they say on the tin.”

In April, the supreme court ordered the government to make plans for tackling the UK’s air pollution problem, which has been in breach of EU limits for years and is linked to thousands of premature deaths each year.

London and several other British cities have failed to meet EU standards on NO2 levels since 2010. Yet when proposals were published earlier this month by the environment secretary, Elizabeth Truss, they were widely condemned as weak and ineffective.

The consultation document suggested individual emission limits for four different vehicle types but also passes the responsibility on enforcement to local authorities, which would then be liable to EU fines if limits were breached.

ClientEarth, which forced the supreme court to rule against the government, said it was now considering taking further legal action to push ministers into delivering on their responsibilities.

Meanwhile, air pollution is swiftly becoming a key issue for the London mayoral contest, in which Labour’s Sadiq Khan is expected to be pitched against Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park.

Khan told the Observer: “The Tories in government, and Boris Johnson, have stood by as London’s air has become dangerously polluted. We are now facing a health crisis – with air pollution responsible for as many as 10,000 deaths a year in the capital.

“I’ll make cleaning London’s air a top priority for City Hall – an expanded ultra-low emission zone, cleaner buses, more support for cycling, opposition to Heathrow expansion and a pedestrianised Oxford Street, turning one of Europe’s most polluted streets into a worldm class, tree-lined public space.”

Speaking at her party’s autumn conference in Bournemouth on Saturday, Green party MP Caroline Lucas described air pollution in the UK as a public health crisis. “If you look at the cost [of air pollution] to the NHS, it’s been estimated to be between £10bn and £15bn every single year,” she said.

“Just because air pollution is invisible, it’s almost as if successive governments have felt they can just afford to ignore it. They haven’t taken it seriously enough, but this is an absolute public health crisis. It’s nothing less than that. We need this government now to treat it as such.”

Lucas said the government needed be taking the lead in the EU on vehicle emissions regulations and should be investing in public transport which, in many towns and cities across the country, was “a creaking relic from decades ago”.

“[This government is] ideologically undisposed to regulation,” said Lucas. “They assume that markets are going to be able to sort this out. Well, they absolutely can’t, and while they dither kids die. They need to sit up and take notice.”

Seven million premature deaths are caused by air pollution each year, according to the World Health Organisation. This includes indoor and outdoor pollution such as smoke from cooking stoves in developing countries.

About 80% of deaths related to outdoor pollution are linked to heart disease and strokes, 14% to lung or respiratory diseases, and 6% to cancer, says WHO.

29,000 deaths a year in the UK are thought to be caused by air pollution, Public Health England estimates.

1,148 of London’s schools are within 150 metres of pollution hotspots, according to campaign group Clean Air in London.

100m working days are lost across the EU every year through illnesses such as asthma.

In London, the EU limits for nitrogen dioxide will not be met until after 2025.