NO2 Air Quality Plan (UK)

A statutory UK Plan for tackling roadside emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is published today. The documents are here.

NO2 air quality standards are set out in the following laws (implementing EU air quality standards, which give effect to World Health Organisation – WHO – air quality guidelines – found in ENV Air in the Cardinal Environment EHS Legislation Registers and Checklists) :

– The Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010

– The Air Quality Standards (Scotland) Regulations 2010

– The Air Quality Standards Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010

– The Air Quality Standards (Wales) Regulations 2010

The UK 2017 Air Quality Plan (NO2) has the following components:

(1) there is to be a national framework setting out the steps that local authorities need to take (no details in the Plan)

(2) there is to be financial support to enable local authorities to develop and implement their plans

• £255m Implemention Fund, for feasibility studies and local plan development and delivery – £40 million immediately

• Clean Air Fund, for local authority bids for additional money to support the implementation of measures to improve air quality. This could include interventions such as improvements to local bus fleets, support for concessionary travel and more sustainable modes of transport such as cycling, or infrastructure changes. These interventions could enable local authorities to avoid the imposition of restrictions on vehicles, such as charging zones. To ensure the Fund fits the specific needs of each local area there will be a competitive process through which local authorities bid for support. Further details will be announced later in the year.

• £100 million for retrofitting and new low emission buses. As announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement, the government will provide this funding for a national programme of support for low emission buses in England and Wales, including hundreds of new low emission buses and retrofitting of thousands of older buses.

(3) local plans (produced by local authorities, local authorities already have responsibility under the Local Air Quality Management system brought in by EU law) are to be developed and implemented at pace so that air quality limits are met (presently the UK breaches air quality limits on a routine basis in some locations). Initial local plans by end March 2018. Final local plans by end December 2018. These plans will be subject to DEFRA approval, if not approved, measures will be mandated.

(4) local authorities are to consider a wide range of innovative options, exploring new technologies and seeking to support the government’s industrial strategy so that they can deliver reduced emissions in a way that best meets the needs of their communities and local businesses. 

Their plans could include a wide range of measures such as: changing road layouts at congestion and air pollution pinch points; encouraging public and private uptake of ULEVs; using innovative retrofitting technologies and new fuels; and, encouraging the use of public transport. 

If these measures are not sufficient, local plans could include access restrictions on vehicles, such as charging zones or measures to prevent certain vehicles using particular roads at particular times. However, local authorities should bear in mind such access restrictions would only be necessary for a limited period and should be lifted once legal compliance is achieved and there is no risk of legal limits being breached again.

The 2017 Plan does not suggest that any or all of these obligations will be mandatory, unless the local plans prove insufficient.

(5) a new Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill will allow the government to require the installation of charge points for electric vehicles at motorway service areas and large fuel retailers, and to make it even easier to use electric vehicle chargepoints across the UK. This drive towards cleaner technology and zero emission transport will be reinforced by both the Clean Growth Plan and the Industrial Strategy, including investment in science and innovation through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

(6) checks by the pre-existing Market Surveillance Unit will be increased to ensure that new and existing vehicles on UK roads meet the standards that they were approved to. 

Also, please note the following re medium scale combustion plants :

Medium Combustion Plants (MCPs) are widely used to generate heat for large buildings (offices, hotels, hospitals, prisons) and industrial processes, as well as for power generation, and have been largely unregulated for emissions to air. In addition, there has been rapid growth in the use of generators with high NOx emissions in Great Britain which is expected to continue. 

Modelling indicates that such generators can lead to local breaches of the statutory hourly mean limit value for NO2. 

The UK and Welsh Governments consulted on new statutory measures to reduce emissions from MCPs and generators in 2016 with a view to introducing emission controls in England and Wales from the end of 2018, to improve air quality. The response to the consultation, published on 11 July 2017, sets out the controls which will be introduced into legislation by the end of 2017.

Scotland and Northern Ireland consulted in 2016 and 2017 respectively on measures to reduce emissions from MCPs within the same timescale as England and Wales, and sought views on controlling emissions from generators.

Also, new diesel and petrol cars and vans will be banned in the UK from 2040 in a bid to tackle air pollution, the government has announced. This is a separate pledge

Air Quality NOx: UK Supreme Court Decision

On 29th April, the UK Supreme Court handed down its judgement in the ClientEarth v DEFRA (UK Government) case. I posted about this case December last.

These proceedings arose out of the admitted and continuing failure by the UK since 2010 to secure compliance in certain zones with the limits for nitrogen dioxide levels set out by European law, under Directive 2008/50/EC. The Supreme Court in its judgement of 1st May 2013 had declared the UK to be in breach of article 13 (NOx limit values) and had referred certain questions concerning articles 13, 22 and 23 of the Directive to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The CJEU had answered those questions in a judgement dated 14 November 2014 (Case C-404/13). At the same time, the European Court had ruled the UK Government must have a plan to achieve the air quality limits ‘as soon as possible’. My post about this is also in the December archive.

In its judgement of 29th April 2015, the UK Supreme Court unanimously orders that the government must submit new air quality plans to the European Commission no later than 31 December 2015. 

Link to Supreme Court Decision press summary.

Link to Supreme Court Decision.

In 2011 the UK Government said a number of areas, including London, would be unable to comply by 2015 (the deadline in the EU Directive) and instead EU law allowed it to ‘comply as soon as possible’. Indeed, air quality plans would continue the breach at least until 2030. This approach is now struck down by the Supreme Court.

The country goes to the polls on Thursday May 7 to elect a new government.

Some reaction from existing politicians and campaigners is set out in the Air Quality News article here.

UK Persistent Air Pollution (EU legal proceedings) (Update)

My post on action taken by the European Commission for breach of European laws on Air Quality is here.

ClientEarth Case

On 10 July 2014, ClientEarth’s case against the UK Government for breaching air quality limits was heard by the court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg. ClientEarth and European Commission lawyers told EU judges UK Government plans will not meet nitrogen dioxide limits in London, Birmingham and Leeds until after 2030. This is 20 years after the original legal deadline and five years later than previously admitted. The information was made publically available by Defra the day before.

European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgment from 19 November 2014 is binding on the UK courts and the national courts in all 28 EU member states. The ECJ highlighted, that limit values for NO2 has to be met since 1 January 2010, if the Member States didn’t apply for a time extension for five years. Member States are obliged to develop an air quality plan, containing effective measures to keep the time of non-compliance as short as possible. The decision indicates that national courts have to demand for any necessary measure from the national authority.

Further information is here.

UK Persistent Air Pollution (EU legal proceedings)

Letter of formal notice of legal proceedings is issued today by the European Commission to the UK for breach of the EU Directive on Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air in Europe. Press Release.

The UK has two months to respond.

The EU Directive contains flexibility as regards the deadlines for returning air pollution to safe levels. Although the original deadline for meeting the limit values was 1 January 2010, extensions have been agreed with Member States which had a credible and workable plan for meeting air quality standards within five years of the original deadline, i.e. by January 2015. The UK has not presented any such plan for the zones in question.

The UK Supreme Court has already declared that air pollution limits are regularly exceeded in 16 zones across the UK. The areas affected are Greater London, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Teesside, the Potteries, Hull, Southampton, Glasgow, the East, the South East, the East Midlands, Merseyside, Yorkshire & Humberside, the West Midlands, and the North East. The Court also noted that air quality improvement plans estimate that for London compliance with EU standards will only be achieved by 2025, fifteen years after the original deadline, and in 2020 for the other 15 zones.

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New Clean Air Policy Package (EU)

A new Clean Air Policy Package is adopted by the European Commission in December 2013.

Here is the link to the new EU Clean Air Package. See below extracts from the Commission’s Q&A document:

What are the main components of the clean air policy package?

(A) A Clean Air Programme for Europe, which describes the problem and sets out new interim objectives for reducing health and environmental impacts up to 2030. It also defines the necessary emission reduction requirements for the key pollutants and the policy agenda that will be necessary to achieve the objectives.

(B) A revised National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD), containing updated national ceilings (caps) for six key air pollutants (PM, SO2, NOx, VOCs, NH3 and CH4) for 2020 and 2030.

(C) A new Directive for Medium-sized Combustion Plants between 1 and 50 MWth.

(D) A ratification proposal for the amended Gothenburg Protocol under the 1979 UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

What is the difference between EU air pollution emission ceilings and EU air quality standards?

EU national emission ceilings are upper limits for total emissions of certain air pollutants that Member States will have to respect by a certain date, to push down background concentrations and limit transboundary air pollution. Existing ceilings are in place for 2010, as set out in the UNECE Gothenburg Protocol in 1999 and the EU National Emission Ceilings Directive, NECD (2001/81/EC). New ceilings (which are called national emission reduction commitments) for 2020 were agreed recently in a revised Gothenburg Protocol, and are proposed for 2020 and 2030 in a revised NECD as part of the clean air policy package.

EU air quality standards are local concentration limit values for the air pollutants most harmful to health, as set out in the EU ambient air quality Directive, AAQD (2008/50/EC), which have to be respected everywhere in the EU with a view to provide a general protection for all against harmful air pollution levels. Achieving the air quality standards often require a combination of local measures addressing particular air pollution hotspots, and reducing background emissions by implementing the NECD. The AAQD entered into force as late as 2010, and has not been revised as part of the air policy review.

Why was the existing EU air quality standards in the Ambient Air Quality Directive not revised? Are they not too weak compared to the WHO standards?

The existing air quality standards in the Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD) were carefully examined in the review, and it is clear that they are insufficient in relation to the WHO air quality guidelines on air pollution, which represent the levels where health risks are minimized. But it is also clear that further tightening existing EU air quality standards will be ineffective unless we see real cuts in air pollution from the main sources. As many Member States are currently facing infringement cases for failing to reach existing standards, proposing stricter standards at this point in time may prove counter-productive. Instead, the new policy proposes stricter emission ceilings in the revised NECD and, together with new source legislation, this will pave the way for tightened standards in the Ambient Air Quality Directive at a later stage.

Nevertheless, the Commission will also consider simplifying the implementing measures of the Ambient Air Quality Directive without revising the core obligations, in the context of comitology.

Why is a new Directive to cut emissions from Medium-sized Combustion Plants needed?

The review of air policy that preceded this package of measures revealed a gap in EU source legislation for smaller energy plants for street blocks or large buildings, and small industry installations (1-50 MWth). This new instrument is designed to close this gap and make a significant contribution to reduce pollution of NOx, SO2 and PM by setting limit values for new and existing installations, together with a simple registration scheme. In this way, the Directive will help deliver a significant part of Member States’ emission reduction obligations. The Directive is also necessary to avoid possible trade-offs between air quality and increased biomass use, which may otherwise result in increased air pollution.

Does this proposal go far enough – isn’t the time frame of 2050 to achieve the WHO air quality guidelines is too far away?

The WHO air quality guidelines are very challenging, especially in air pollution hotspots such as large cities. The proposed policy is based on available technology, and represents a careful balance between benefits and costs. It sets the pathway to significant improvements in the long term, but with the help of larger, more structural changes, such as moving to a low carbon economy, progress will be faster. If we agree on an ambitions post 2020 climate package, for which the Commission will present a proposal in 2014, overall air policy objectives can be reached well before 2050.