The following are some articles on the air pollution issue published in our previous Newsletters.
Cars and Air Pollution - The Facts, published September 2007
When Islington Council circulated a leaflet to all residents in their borough on the CO2 based permit parking proposals, the council Leader, James Kempton said in it that “Carbon dioxide emissions impact on climate change and one of the contributors to rising emission levels is cars.” Although your editor personally told Mr Kempton that he was wrong at least on the latter point when he met him at a meeting in Islington, I did not have the proof immediately to hand. But it is given in an interesting document recently published by Transport for London (TfL).
This document is the TfL “Environment Report 2006” which can be found on the internet at: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/corporate/Environment-Report-2006.pdf
Although the introduction by Peter Hendy, Transport Commissioner, repeats the spurious claim that air pollution has reduced as a result of Congestion Charging (see our last edition), it contains some other useful information. For example, it notes on page 7 that CO2 emissions from TfL’s own offices increased by 2 per cent over the previous year, and by 11 per cent per square metre of floor space. So much for TfL setting a good example to the rest of us. One wonders what caused the increase. Is it because they bought a lot more IT equipment, turned up the air conditioning, or what?
Page 31 contains the really important data though. It provides estimates of the CO2 emissions from different transport modes, in 2005/2006, including a “per passenger” figure.
Air Pollution from Cars Not Increasing
The figure for total CO2 emissions of cars is given as 4.73 million tonnes. Even though it does not show the change from the prior year, in the previous years report, page 7, it gives estimates of total CO2 emissions in 1999, and that shows a total of 4.67 million tonnes for cars – in effect no significant change over 7 years, and it probably fell last year.
But Pollution from Buses Increasing
The latest report shows total emissions from buses actually rose by 5%, including an incredible figure of 7% increase for CO2 emissions per passenger over the year.
And Buses are Barely Better than Cars
The other revealing figure in the table is that it shows that the average CO2 emissions per passenger for buses is 103 gms/km in London, whereas for cars it is 124 gms/km. In other words, there is not much difference. That is probably based on the average occupancy of cars of not much better than one. So if there are two of you in a car, you are almost certainly “greener” than going by bus. The figures for underground and tram travel are better, although it does not make it clear whether that data includes their total emission costs , including those from the power stations needed to generate the electricity to drive them.
Of course all of these figures are based on TfL estimates and they provide few details of how they arrived at these figures. Knowing the preference by TfL for public transport over private vehicles, one has to bear in mind that the estimates may also be biased in various ways.
SMMT Figures Also Say CO2 is Falling
Cleaner new cars have saved five million tonnes of CO2 in last decade 25/06/2007 according to a recent report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). SMMT economists have calculated that car makers saved nearly five million tonnes of CO2 in the last ten years - thanks to the development of cleaner, greener cars. Average new car CO2 has fallen by 22.6 g/km to 167.2 g/km since 1997, down by nearly 12 per cent. That equates to current annual CO2 emissions savings approaching a million tonnes. “Car makers have made significant progress in cutting CO2” commented SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan. “Total CO2 emissions in the UK from cars have actually fallen since 1997, down 3.2 per cent from 72.2million to 69.9 million tonnes in 2005. That's despite a 16.5 per cent rise in cars on the road from 26.3 to 30.7 million.”
Cars and Air Pollution in the UK, published November 2006
One of most interesting statements in the recent Thames Gateway Bridge report from TfL is the following statement: “Private cars (at which FOE’s hostility seems to be focussed) constitute only 10% of total UK CO2 emissions, and the position appears to be both under control and improving, largely due to technology”. The percentage of CO2 emissions generated by road transport of the total emissions of 170 million tonnes in 2004 was 20%. Roughly about half of that is generated by cars, with a quarter produced by HGVs, a smaller amount by LGVs and a minor fraction by buses. However the proportion generated by buses and taxis in London is probably relatively higher although exact figures are difficult to locate.
Although new cars are relatively less polluting, as they are more fuel efficient and have better filters, the total amount of pollution generated by them is not falling as there are more cars on the road. However, the pollution from goods vehicles has been rising, and that from air transport has been rocketing upwards.
Incidentally the largest coal fired power station in the UK (Drax) generates more CO2 than all the passenger cars combined (21 million tonnes versus 19 million tonnes).
What to Do About It?
Here are your editor’s comments on the problem of air pollution:
Global warming may or may not be happening – I am one of the sceptics. But reducing air pollution, particularly of those pollutants that are known to affect health, is surely a sensible thing to do so long as it can be done at reasonable cost. Improving the air quality in cities such as London will make life much pleasanter and most people would be willing to pay something for that.
But clearly, tinkering at the fringes by making minor adjustment to the rates of car vehicle tax, or introducing a higher London congestion charge for more polluting vehicles is not going to make a real difference. We don’t need “gesture politics” – what we need is some real steps to cut pollutants in total.
Therefore the really big polluters such as power stations and industrial processes must be tackled. At the same time, transport emissions must also be improved, and that should not be done by simply stopping people from travelling, or attempting to move them all to public transport (the latter would not make much difference anyway) but by much more aggressive encouragement of technological solutions. Cars, LGVs, HGVs, buses and taxis can all be made a lot more efficient and cleaner than they are at present – in fact some cars are already remarkably improved. Even people who like to buy high performance or larger vehicles could have their needs satisfied – just look at the Lexus GS450h reviewed in a previous edition – but they need strong, but reasonable, financial incentives to make the change.
Clearly a high fuel cost would help but it is probably not sufficient and causes problems for rural communities who have fewer pollution problems anyway. Perhaps better to have a more aggressive car license duty in terms of higher rates for more polluting vehicles. But both of these approaches are very blunt instruments and cause problems for people who have recently bought vehicles unless they are phased in gradually or only applied to new vehicles.
In addition they are unselective about the type of pollution being generated. Carbon dioxide is not nearly as detrimental to health as other pollutants such as particulates or NO2 so the wrong incentives may actually make matters worse – for example they might encourage the use of more diesel engines which may be more “economical” but are a lot worse for certain pollutants.
An alternative approach is simply to direct that cars must meet certain improved standards over time, if they are to be sold at all. Or you can have a “manufacturer overall average” target that they have to meet, as they have to in the USA. Such targets can be made pollutant specific of course, not just based on CO2 emissions. Such targets would probably require much more specific commitment from the European Union however and would take some years to implement.
Another thing that would help would be to encourage the removal of older vehicles from our roads by suitable financial incentives. Expediting the renewal of the vehicle fleet, particularly of older HGVs, LGVs and taxis, would have a significant impact because older vehicles are significantly worse than modern ones in respect to pollution.
At present, the measures being taken are in my view too weak and too mixed up with illogical emotions to really achieve much. You cannot cut air pollution significantly by simply reducing car usage, as has been well demonstrated by the London congestion tax. You need to encourage technological improvements much more forcefully such as using electric or hybrid powered buses and delivery vehicles. Note that the EU set a target of 120g CO2/km for 2010 for cars, but that target is unlikely to be met unless more vigorous action is taken at an international level.
But any such steps should not just target private vehicles but even more importantly goods vehicles, buses and taxis. There should be no separate attack on the private motorist and the reductions should apply across all vehicle types.
London's Low Emission Zone, published April 2006
Earlier this year, we briefly covered the proposals for a “Low Emission Zone” in London. This will attempt to improve air quality by deterring older, more polluting vehicles, from entering any part of the GLA area.
Only HGVs, LGVs, and buses will be affected, not private cars. In practice, any older vehicles that do not meet the latest “Euro III” standard by 2008, and the “Euro IV” standard by 2010 will have to pay a hefty fee to enter any of the London Boroughs.
This matter has now gone to public consultation and you can read the full report and submit comments by going to the following web site: www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/low-emission-zone/. The basic intention of the proposals is to cut the level of PM10 (particulates) and NO2 in the atmosphere. A high proportion of these in the atmosphere come from road transport, particularly diesel engines in the former case. They are also claimed to have negative impacts on health. The report claims that the cost benefits in terms of health would be in the range of £130 to £180 million over the years 2008 to 2015 but does not substantiate that with any figures (Editors Comments: I am exceedingly sceptical that this is the case).
The scheme would be enforced by a network of cameras, as with the congestion charging scheme, and it will cost approximately £130 million to implement and operate it until 2016. This will of course have to be paid for mainly by Londoners as it is expected to generate less than £50 million in fees and penalties from the vehicle operators.
In addition, the cost for goods vehicle operators to comply with the scheme, partly to modify their vehicles to cut emissions, will be up to £180 million, which of course they will pass on to their customers.
Only 5 Years Benefit
One remarkable comment in the TfL report is this: “Work undertaken by TfL estimates that the introduction of a London LEZ would bring forward by some 4 – 5 years reductions in PM10 emissions in 2010 than would otherwise be achieved under the natural vehicle replacement cycle”. In other words, this enormously expensive project will only expedite improved air quality by about 5 years, because it would improve anyway as older vehicles are replaced. New vehicles must conform to much tighter emission standards so the problem will be much reduced in a few years time.
Why Such a Complex and Expensive System?
The report also points out that there are alternative ways of achieving the same results. For example in Sweden there was a proposal to introduce such a system in some of the major cities by simply banning older vehicles from town centres. Alternatively you might choose to bribe people to replace their old cars with new models.
(Editor: Of course once you have this amazingly expensive infrastructure in place, will it ever get dismantled? Probably not because it will provide TfL with a great opportunity to regulate even more of our lives.
The following is what I said last time on this subject, and a reading of the report hasn’t changed my views: As with most of Ken Livingstone’s plans, financial probity seems to have been ignored, and this proposal is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It is certainly a good idea to introduce a low emission zone in those parts of London that are badly affected by pollution from such vehicles, but such areas are relatively small. For example, Bromley has minimal problems in that regard. But to introduce the proposed scheme over the whole of London will be enormously expensive for vehicle operators.
Of course there could be another reason why Ken and TfL are so keen on this scheme. Once the cameras have been installed over the whole of London, introducing a London wide “congestion charging” scheme would be trivial.)
Winds of Death, or Hot Air?, published August 2004
The local Chislehurst Times recently ran a front page headline of “Winds of Death” which covered a report by Dr Roy Colville of Imperial College on air quality in London. Apparently a similar report also appeared in the Evening Standard, and Colville is quoted as saying “lifespan can be reduced by 10 years by pollution” which the Chislehurst Times suggested referred to Bromley residents.
In fact what Dr Colville said was “In extreme cases, lifespan can be reduced…..” and much of London is very much more polluted than Bromley so even if there was such an effect you are likely to see it elsewhere rather than in Bromley. There is an increase in death rates on high pollution days, but such days tend to coincide with extremes of weather. Particularly in very hot weather, of which there was a long stretch in 2003, more people tend to die who are on their last legs. As to whether this is caused by the “heat stress” or air pollution is very debatable.
According to a preliminary report on London air quality for 2003, this was one of the worst recent years for pollution by Ozone which can cause health problems. Ozone is known to increase in hot weather conditions. However, it is well known than Ozone levels rise when other pollutants such as NO and NO2 fall (ie. high traffic congestion levels tend to reduce the Ozone level). So you would expect that Bromley, which is naturally cleaner than other parts of London, would show high Ozone levels. But there is no evidence that even last year’s levels were a serious health threat in Bromley. Very hot weather does increase the Ozone levels but this is a purely natural phenomenon.
Ken Livingstone Claims Reduced Pollution
Ken Livingstone in his election campaign and in a report to a Commons Committee claimed that the Congestion Charge has reduced pollution in London, which is somewhat unexpected. Selectively quoting data, he said Carbon Monoxide (CO) had fallen by a fifth and NO2 by 12 per cent. Unfortunately he has not yet published the full report, and making sense of pollution data based on a few unique figures is impossible. Trends are what matter, and these are not yet clear because of the unusual weather conditions in London last year.
(Editor’s Comments: As usual, there is too much hot air and not enough reporting of the facts with politicians and journalists picking out the data to suit their preconceived stories. Note also that much of the pollution is not transport related - one of the worst days in 2003 was November 5th for obvious reasons. Refer to past articles in our Newsletter for more information on pollution issues).
Trains are the Worst Polluting Transport
Another recent report on transport pollution was that of a study by Professor Roger Kemp of Lancaster University. It shows that long distance rail travel in the UK is actually one of the worst polluting transport modes, and has actually been getting worse. Heavier rolling stock and higher speeds have been degrading the amount of fuel they use. For example, they calculate a modern London to Edinburgh express train would use more fuel per seat than a modern diesel car, at 11.5 litres. They also apparently use more fuel than a short haul aircraft. Professor Kemp said the rail industry had “taken its eye off the ball” environmentally.
Incidentally if you think that the above data needs to be adjusted for the fact that most cars only have one occupant, then you need to think again. The average loading (ie. percentage of seats occupied) on long-haul trains is about 20% and London buses are only 16% so it would be wrong to assume that public transport seats are any more occupied than those in private cars. Other studies in the US and Germany have shown the same thing - namely that public transport is not necessarily less polluting or more energy efficient than private transport. This undermines a lot of the government’s rhetoric on national transport policies.
London Environmental Issues
The Office of National Statistics recently reported that the population of Greater London grew by 8 per cent in the 10 years to 2001. This made it one of the fastest growing areas in the United Kingdom. It is probably needless to point out that the capacity of the transport network, whether it be road or rail, has hardly gone up at all in that period which is why we see overcrowded trains and worse traffic congestion. But Ken Livingstone seems to think that expanding his empire still further by promoting the growth of London is a good idea.
A telling piece of information on the environmental problems caused by over expansion of London was the recent news that Thames Water is to apply to build a desalination plant on the Thames estuary. They claim they are already using over half of the annual rainfall, and need more supplies to cope with rising demand. Readers may think that the UK must be one of the few countries that does not have a water supply problem bearing in mind how much rain we get, but this is not the case. We have a high density population, with high water consumption and high wastage. Plus unfortunately much of the rain falls in places like Wales and Scotland when the consumption is mostly in South East England. More information on the water consumption and available supplies of different countries can be seen in Bjorn Lomborg’s book “The Skeptical Environmentalist”.
Bellamy Says Global Warming is Poppycock
On a related environmental issue, Professor David Bellamy said that “global warming is poppycock” in a recent major article in the Daily Mail. He believes the Kyoto Protocol is potentially a massive waste of money and that any change in worldwide temperatures is a purely natural cycle of global warming and cooling. The full article can be seen on the ABD web site (http://www.abd.org.uk under “Environment”). But Jeremy Clarkson has claimed that David Bellamy contributes to environmental pollution by wearing a heavy beard. He claimed that the extra weight of facial hair adds to the petrol consumption of any vehicle they are sitting in, and that someone has worked out that a moustache costs £5 per year extra in fuel. (Editor’s Comments: Environmental enthusiasts should clearly lose their beards and go on a diet).
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Falling
According to a recent report from the Office of National Statistics, total UK greenhouse gas emissions fell by 10% from 1990 to 2002. However transport emissions (which are now 18% of the total) were on a rising trend until 2000, after which they fell, primarily because of the downturn in air travel. Emissions from cars only increased by 6% from 1990 to 2002, which is clearly much less than the growth in traffic. In any case it accounts for less than half of all road transport emissions. However road freight emissions rose by 48% and air transport emissions rose by 85%.
(Editor’s Comments: The air transport figures are particularly bad, partly because the industry is little regulated, the fuel used is untaxed, and the government has actually been encouraging the expansion of airports and air travel when it is one of the most environmentally damaging forms of transport. If the government had any sense they would stop penalising the private car and do more to tackle the problems of air transport and road freight).
Bromley Air Quality Strategy, published October 2003
We have previously reported that Bromley has relatively minor problems with air pollution. For example, there are no areas in the borough that are expected to fail the standards set in the National Air Quality Strategy. As a result, it has not been necessary to declare any “Air Quality Management Areas”. Bromley is therefore not required by the Mayor of London’s Air Quality strategy to declare any “action zones”, but is required to produce an “Air Quality Strategy” document. This it has now done and you can obtain a copy from the council if you want to read the full 94 pages.
What does it say? Apart from repeating some amusing stories from local newspapers about London smogs in the early 1950s, it emphasises again that although there are localised areas of poor air quality in Bromley, that in general pollution from traffic is falling. Improvements in motor vehicle technology are likely to lead to falling pollution levels until at least 2010, even if traffic is not reduced by other policy measures. The report rightly points out that air quality has been improving although many people think the opposite is the case.
It reiterates the necessity to reduce motor traffic, which is a common plank of Bromley council policies, but does not explain why that is a practical solution, or even necessary. (Editor’s Comments: There is no evidence that this policy is achievable and at best it seems that it will only reduce the growth of traffic, which in Bromley is already constrained by road capacity limitations in any case. It will certainly not have any significant impact on air pollution levels.).
The worst parts of the borough for local pollution are probably Sevenoaks Way in Orpington, Kentish Way (the town centre bypass), Westmoreland Road, Crystal Palace Parade and Bromley Common/Hayes Lane junction. These locations are characterised by the presence of large numbers of heavy goods vehicles and buses (these two are the worst polluters) plus stationary queues of traffic from road congestion. There are no proposals in the report to tackle these problems, and note that cutting out a few car journeys is not likely to make any difference to those locations.
The report also mentions the use of parking policies such as raising prices to unaffordable levels or introducing permit parking schemes, as one way to reduce traffic, but fails to point out that these policies do not have any significant public support, apart from being unlikely to be effective in cutting pollution. (Editor’s Comments: Some of these policies are enshrined in the new Unitary Development Plan which BBRAG is making objections to during the Public Inquiry).
The report does propose six Action Points, but these are pretty bland, such as maintaining monitoring programmes and a commitment to stick to other policies laid down by the GLA or central Government.
(Editor’s Comments: On the whole a useful document in terms of information, but the analysis it contains is pretty weak as it tends to follow the established “politically correct” policies promoted elsewhere. Nothing very specific that would have real benefits to air pollution in Bromley is proposed so it’s very much a “maintain the status quo” or “do nothing” kind of report. As usual with such reports, it’s more significant in terms of what it leaves out than what it includes. But at least it won’t cost us anything, except maybe some unnecessarily inflated car parking charges ).
Air Quality in Bromley, published February 2003
You may have read some alarmist reports in the local press recently about air quality in Bromley, based on a report by the Environmental Research Group of King’s College London (see www.erg.kcl.ac.uk/london for background information). For example one article commenced with the statement “Residents in Bromley are being exposed to dangerously high levels of pollution……” and continued with “levels of fine particulate pollution - which are linked to respiratory disease - were worse in outer London than most areas of central London…”. These statements are in fact simply misleading and unduly alarmist.
The basis of the above statements are pollution counts taken at a site near the junction of Widmore Road and Kentish Way, which is one of the worst locations in Bromley for heavy vehicles and queuing traffic. It is not typical of the pollution experienced in most of Bromley! Even then the figures only exceeded government guidelines in 30 days of the year. As has been shown by reports produced by Bromley Council staff, it is unlikely that Bromley residents are suffering from any health risks from current pollution levels (which are getting better anyway as older vehicles are replaced).
Unlike central London boroughs, and those near Heathrow, which have very high levels of general air pollution, the problems in Bromley are very localised - and even then for only a few days in the year. This position was more fully explained in our Newsletters 10 and 12 published in 2001. It might be a good idea to try and reduce the traffic congestion at this junction so as to avoid this local air pollution problem, but that would be a sensible move anyway simply on the grounds of transport efficiency.
Incidentally the last report produced by this group (otherwise known as the London Air Quality Network) was in December 2001 so it’s not clear what prompted the recent press reports other than the anniversary of the great London smog of 1952. The 2001 report included such statements as “Annual mean concentrations of NOx and NO2 fell markedly.
This is heartening as it shows that national strategies - particularly for cleaner vehicles - are having an effect.” and “The other pollutants CO, SO2 and PM10 (ie. fine particulates) also decreased further during 2000, which is good news for air quality.”, and “During 2000 there were no major pollution incidents as seen in previous years.”. Clearly a very different view.
Pollution Caused by Traffic Calming by R.W.Lawson, published June 2002