UK air quality improvements in 2011

18th December 2012


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  • Manufacturing ,
  • Waste ,
  • Air ,
  • Pollution & Waste Management

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IEMA

Emissions of harmful air pollution across the UK fell in 2011 continuing the long-term downward trend, according to the latest figures from Defra

After a 2% rise in sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels in 2010, emissions fell by 6.9% last year, resulting in an annual output across the UK equivalent to just 6% of 1970 levels, confirms annual statistics from the environment department.

A similar year-on-year reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions was recorded in 2011, while particulate matter, PM10 and PM2.5 fell by 3% and 4.5% respectively. The amount of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) emitted into the air also dropped, by 2.5%.

Stricter regulation of pollutants from industry and transport, alongside a switch from coal to gas to generate electricity have been key to the long-term air pollution improvements, concludes Defra in a report detailing annual air pollution data from 1970 to 2011.

Despite overall improvements in air pollution levels, a rise in the adoption of anaerobic digestion to manage waste and an increase in the use of nitrogen-containing fertiliser, has seen ammonia levels rise steadily over the past four years. In 2011, ammonia emissions increased 1.6% to reach their highest levels since 2007.

Air pollution from the manufacturing and construction sectors fell by more than the UK average in 2011, says Defra, with SO2 levels falling 8.4% and emissions of NOx and particulate matter dropping by more than 9%.

Emissions from non-road transport, however, rose slightly with particulate matter increasing by 2.5% and NOx levels by 3.4%.

As Defra revealed the positive air quality impacts of moving away from coal-fired power plants in the UK, figures from the International Energy Agency confirmed that demand for coal was increasing across the globe.

According to the agency’s latest calculations, by 2017 the world will burn 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal a year than it does today, meaning it will rival oil as the top energy source.

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