Defra says air quality goal is 'too costly'

13th March 2012

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  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Prevention & Control ,
  • EU ,
  • Central government ,
  • Air



Defra's response to last year's report on air quality from the environmental audit committee (EAC) warns that the costs of complying with EU air quality targets may outweigh the potential benefits

The Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC) requires member states to achieve set limits for particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) and benzene by an extended deadline of 2015.

However, Defra’s response to the EAC admits that parts of the UK will be unable to meet the target date for NO₂, arguing that the potential benefits of doing so are outweighed by the expense.

“There was never an intention for any of the [EU] deadlines to force measures that would impose disproportionate costs on society. Deadlines for attainment of limit values must reflect both the availability of measures and the affordability of implementation relative to the benefits,” said Defra.

Simon Birkett, director of Clean Air in London (CAL), commented: “It is laughable for the government to say it is too costly to comply with air quality laws. Defra’s own Air Quality Strategy [for the UK] in 2007 stated, for example, that ‘policies in the road transport sector and the electricity generating sector have been shown to be very cost beneficial, with benefits estimated to have exceeded costs by up to a factor of 24’.”

He said that CAL was very disappointed by Defra’s response to the EAC’s 2011 air quality report, which had accused the government of failing to get to grips with the issue, and would no longer work with the environment department.

“The long list of excuses and clear message that the government has no intention of complying with air quality deadlines makes it impossible for CAL to continue as a member of Defra’s stakeholders on air quality,” said Birkett.

In a letter to environment secretary Caroline Spelman, EAC chair Joan Walley said that she too was disappointed that Defra had disagreed with many of the committee’s recommendations.

“The response sets out very few policy changes and describes a business-as-usual approach that puts the UK on a trajectory to fail to meet EU targets by a large margin,” she commented.

Meanwhile, data from Defra on 26 air pollutants reveal that emissions of 10 of these increased between 2009 and 2010, even though all have declined substantially since 1990.

The biggest change between 2009 and 2010 was the 14% increase reported in dioxin and furan emissions. There was also a 3% rise recorded in emissions of hexachlorobenzene. Of the 10 pollutants covered by the UK Air Quality Strategy, 2010 saw a 2% increase in emissions of both sulphur dioxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, while emissions of PM10 and ammonia were unchanged.


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