An Environment Act for Cleaner Air – meeting notes

On the 26th March the APPG on Air Pollution held an event on “An Environment Act for Cleaner Air”, chaired by Geraint Davies MP.

The speakers were:

  • Professor Eloise Scotford, Faculty of Laws, University College London
  • Edward Lockhart, Convener, Broadway Initiative
  • Katie Nield, UK Clean Air Lawyer, ClientEarth
  • Roz Bulleid, Head of Climate, Energy and Environmental Policy, Make UK

Eloise Scotford, UCL

Professor Scotford has been undertaking empirical research into how local authorities deal with air quality governance. The key findings of the research were:

  •  There are unhelpful dissonances between the two statutory regimes for controlling air quality in England – the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive regime (Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010) and the LAQM regime (Environment Act 1995)
  • Local authorities are not necessarily the most appropriate public actor to mitigate air pollution, as they often do not have necessary control over some major pollution sources such as main roads.
  • There is little incentive for action beyond compliance with legal limits.
  • Air quality standards may be inadequate (particularly for PM2.5) but air quality standards defined as numerical concentration limits are also subject to gaming behaviour, and can lead to pollution displacement rather than prevention, so are not necessarily the most suitable (standalone) standards for public health outcomes.
  • The legal requirement to achieve air quality standards in ‘as short a time as possible’ can lead to perverse outcomes, since there is balance needed between the legal pressure to combat air pollution quickly (and meet legal limit values) and the need to look for a sustainable long-term solution.
  • Inconsistent monitoring requirements and modelling approaches at the national and local level can lead to divergent identification of pollution hotspots. As a result, local authorities often have different priorities areas for tackling air pollution, compared with areas that national government sees as the priority. This has an impact on where central government allocates support.
  • Local authorities need more powers (e.g. to tackle vehicle idling), but national government also has a responsibility to lead on policy messaging for behaviour change and on policy measures that require major investment or coordinated action.
  • There are public authorities with control over air pollution sources who are not currently subject to any duties to contribute to achieving air quality outcomes. More administrative coordination is required across all key public actors to tackle air pollution in an effective way (within and across local authorities, with other public actors, across levels of government).

Ed Lockhart, Broadway Initiative.

Ed Lockhart stressed that the Environment Act was an opportunity to shape how we manage the environment that only comes around every twenty years. The nature of this opportunity is defined by:
1) The need to replace EU governance and institutions for the environment which have been responsible for 80% of our laws over the past 46 years
2) The Government’s commitment to leave the environment in a better state against many pressing environmental challenges
3) Time and parliamentary time constraints

Therefore careful thought is needed to put in place the fundamental governance arrangements to consistently put in place the right laws, policies and decisions to solve the full range of environmental problems early including air quality. If we get this right we will enable all sector to play their part in meeting environmental outcomes and truly put sustainability at the heart of the economic model. The opportunity will be missed if we focus simply on legislating around the immediate issues in the press.

To do that the Bill needs to give clarity on the long term outcomes for environmental law and policy and on the roles and responsibilities to enable those outcomes to be achieved.
He said that the Broadway Initiative was set up 18 months previously as a time-limited project to ensure the best possible post-Brexit environmental governance. This grouping brings together many of the major trade associations such as the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, Make UK, the Environmental Industries Commission, along with environmental groups, academia and professional bodies. It was calling for the government’s planned Environment Bill to include:

  1.  Clear long-term objectives, supported by a process to develop targets and milestones where needed.
  2.  Environmental Improvement Plans – already in the Bill- for government as a whole to put in place the mechanisms required to enable achievement of those objectives.
  3.  A framework for local environmental improvement plans to enable planning, investment and collaboration in location specific outcomes.
  4. Allocation of responsibilities for specific activities where appropriate.
  5. The planned Office of Environmental Protection to have a strategic role in holding government to account for keeping society on track to meet the outcomes.

He stressed that the Bill needs to get the governance framework right, and then this would provide the context and framing for the details to be fleshed out in later legislation.

Katie Nield, Client Earth

Katie Nield said it was crucial that the Bill make provisions for binding targets that hold government and public bodies to account.

For air pollution, a stronger, legally-binding limit value is needed.

The Bill should provide a framework for target setting, which gives them longevity and allows for flexibility.

Action to deliver the Bill should be co-ordinated across government departments and the need for action should apply across public bodies.

Industry needs to play its part in delivering outcomes e.g. through scrappage schemes and the setting of binding targets for specific sectors.

In order to better understand the problem, a comprehensive, co-ordinated national system for measuring pollution is required, along with greater transparency on the health impacts of air pollution.

The new Office for Environmental Protection needs to have the power to issue binding notices to ensure it is an effective voice for environmental protection.

Roz Bulleid, Make UK

Make UK is the association representing the manufacturing industry.

Industry supports a collaborative approach and is pleased to see government has decided to keep following the best available technology approach for industrial emissions established by the EU rather than look at alternatives such taxation or expecting UK firms to go significantly further. This is important for companies that are competing internationally and need to remain competitiveness. A lot of the changes required are very costly

Companies involved in the automotive sector and those that use non-road mobile machinery, have been taken by surprise at the speed at which policy is changing on air pollution. There is a need for long-term clarity of policy direction.

Long-term visibility through the Environment Bill can help build regulatory alignment into investment cycles. It will also help manage competing priorities, for instance around energy efficiency and air pollution.

Q&A and discussion

Discussion with the audience followed. Key points raised were:

  • A delegate raised the issue that a watchdog with strong teeth could mean that local authorities are apportioned excessive responsibility for the pollution in their area. However there are also concerns that the draft Environment Bill (as currently drafted, particularly in light of clause 17) may not cover enforcement of air quality standards in the same way that EU law enforcement processes currently do.
    • The Environment Bill should include a human right to clean air, as is being discussed at the UN level.
    • Learning from the experience of the LAQM regime, there is a need for better allocated and aligned responsibility for achieving air quality standards on all public actors.
    • The Bill’s governance framework must not be too specific to allow for flexibility.
    • National government needs to provide leadership.
    • Uncertainty shouldn’t limit action, and there is not time to wait for perfect evidence.
    • The particulate matter target (of reducing the number of people living in locations above the WHO guidelines by 50% by 2025) is an vague target and a missed opportunity.
    • A ‘national anti-idling campaign’ would be a good starting point for public engagement in air pollution issues, but there is a need for more to be done to educate the public, which will in turn allow for policymakers to be more ambitious.
    • Low-cost pollution monitors are an issue for the public as the information they provide is often incorrect – but the technology is still in development.
    • There is a need for long-term vision to drive all action and political priorities on air quality.

To close the event, the Chair asked the panel to state their key request for the Environment Bill:

  • Make UK – clarity about what the Bill is trying to achieve, with a long-term vision and targets.
  • Client Earth – long-term flexible mechanisms with non-regressive binding targets. The Bill should establish an advisory body to advise on target setting. The Bill should have flexibility to allow new pollutants to be included in the future, when they are discovered.
  • UCL – duty on all public bodies with some control over air pollution sources to take action to pursue air quality objectives (and perhaps to issue plans showing their contributions)
  • Broadway Initiative – the Bill not including indoor air quality is a missed opportunity.