UK to fall short of air quality targets, says report

The Department for Transport needs a clear strategy to increase the use of ultra-low emission vehicles, reduce air pollution and deal with the VW cheat device scandal so that it can meet decarbonisation and air quality targets, the Environmental Audit Committee says in its report.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the committee, has commented on the report from the Select Committee saying that, the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles like electric cars, is too low to meet the UK’s climate change targets at the lowest cost to the public. Air quality targets that were supposed to be met in 2010 won’t be hit until 2020 at the earliest. And it has been almost a year since it was discovered VW had fitted cars with cheat devices, but government has still to decide what action to take against the company.

With regard to ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs), the Government’s projections show they will miss the target for ULEVs to make up 9 per cent of all new car and van sales by 2020, which the Committee on Climate Change says is necessary to meet our climate change targets in the most cost-effective way. The EAC is also concerned that the Department has no medium-term strategy to promote these vehicles after 2020.

Local authorities had a range of innovative ideas to drive take-up, such as supporting electric and low emission fleet procurement by underwriting risk or guaranteeing buy-back, helping workplaces invest in charging points, and introducing a national grant scheme for electric and low emission taxis. It was also suggested that Ministers should think about changes to vehicle taxation, including company cars, to make electric vehicles more attractive. The Government needs to give manufacturers a reason to choose their UK car factories to manufacture the next generation of low emission vehicles.

In 2013 only five of 43 clean air zones in the UK met EU standards on levels of NOx, a pollutant which causes respiratory diseases. Following court action in 2015, the Department has now produced a joint air quality plan with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  Transport authorities throughout England have said they have had problems with getting sustainable transport projects off the ground, because the DfT places more importance on economic benefits rather than the health benefits of improving air quality.

With the vote to leave the EU, a material risk to air quality targets is perceived and the suggestion is that the Government should commit to keeping existing European air quality standards.

The Committee found that VW is only just beginning to recall cars in the UK. It also heard that the Serious Fraud Office and Competition and Markets Authority have still to determine whether they will take legal action against VW. The Secretary of State for Transport has yet to decide whether there are grounds for legal action— almost a year after the scandal first broke.

Overall it is felt that the Department for Transport should do more to assess the overall environmental impact of all its transport projects. The National Audit Office told the committee that the department assesses an individual project’s likely effect on the environment, but not the combined effect of all its projects, and whether these individual assessments add up overall to unacceptable environmental harm. It should make a cumulative environmental impact assessment of all its transport schemes.

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