The clocks have gone back and winter is not too far away. Fortunately however, although noticing the increasing chill in the autumn breeze, it is unlikely that Courier readers will be suffering from the dangerously high levels of pollution now present in so many of Britain’s large cities.
Despite significant progress in recent decades, air pollution levels in the European Union are still far too high and having an impact on our environment and health. Air pollution is estimated to cause 690,000 premature deaths per year in the EU - 50,000 in the UK alone. A recent study has shown that that in the UK, children living in areas with high levels of nitrogen dioxide have up to 10% less lung capacity than normal and face an increased risk of lung disease. The European Commission estimates that health-related costs of air pollution in the EU range from 390 to 940 billion euros per year.
If this problem is to be tackled at its source, limiting emissions from medium sized combustion plants must be part of the jigsaw, so MEPs plan to fill a gap in the EU’s clean air legislation in the combustion sector with a new directive to limit emissions of certain pollutants. An important vote at this month’s Strasbourg Plenary will, hopefully, see targets set for EU countries to reduce the six main air pollutants by 2030.
Medium combustion plants are not currently regulated, despite the significant levels of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter they emit. These emissions are linked to low birth weight, asthma, pulmonary heart disease, strokes and a variety of cancers. The new measures will apply to approximately 140,000 plants across the EU, of which 10,000 are in the UK.
This of course is not the whole of the picture. Vehicle exhaust emissions add significantly to air pollution and the Volkswagen emissions scandal has shown the flaws in present EU policy. We now know that up to half the emissions savings we were told had been achieved were in fact false. This is as a result of allowing car manufacturers to conduct and certify their own inaccurate tests. Not only dangerous and unfair for consumers this also presents a huge handicap for policy makers who must rely on the facts given by industry to make policy that is fit for purpose. For months, Labour MEPs have been calling for car manufacturers in Europe to face stricter emissions tests, and for surveillance measures to be introduced like those practised in the USA.
This month Labour MEPs will be calling for all emissions tests to be made independent of car manufacturers, free from any possibility of rigging, and we will demand that the Commission immediately launch a EU-wide investigation to identify ‘defeat devices’ used on all vehicles sold in Europe, irrespective of the brand or fuel used. We need independent testing of cars and no watering down of proposed emission targets if we are to plan for a healthy, pollution-free future for our citizens.