Thursday, 7th January 2016

A Change is in the Air: The EIC’s and Temple’s recommendations of technologies to tackle air pollution

The need to improve air quality in urban areas is one of the most important environmental challenges we face today. Sadly, air pollution and its consequences are increasingly hitting the headlines. From data on the costs of poor air quality, to images of heavily polluted streets in major cities around the world, the issue is now hard to ignore.

In the UK, particulate matter (PM10) limits have been largely met. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) remains a challenge, however, with levels exceeding the EU limits (which should have been met by 2010) in 31 areas in the UK. In May 2015 the UK Supreme Court instructed the government to submit a revised plan to meet these limits by the end of 2015. To add even more complexity to the problem, the scandal of diesel emissions broke out at the same time, further focusing the media’s attention on the issue.

Temple worked with the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) to study the impacts and the economic costs of different alternatives to tackle urban air pollution. The findings of which were presented in the joint report, ‘A clear choice for the UK: Technology options for tackling air pollution’, published at the end of last year. Our goal: to contribute to an informed discussion, based on good quality data, on what options might form part of the solution for the UK. A range of technologies were assessed, including vehicle retrofit and scrappage programmes, electric vehicles and more innovative solutions such as renewable diesel for non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) and photo-catalytic treatments applied to roads to remove pollutants.

The conclusions of our study were clear, there is no single answer to the problem and a range of technologies and strategies will be needed to tackle urban air pollution. Electric vehicles, despite being expected to play an important role in the mid to long-term, are an expensive alternative to improve air quality in the short-term.

In September 2015, the UK Government increased its estimates of damage costs (the cost to society of a change in emissions of different pollutants) to reflect the latest evidence. The new figures make the economic case for adopting many of the technologies evaluated by Temple and the EIC compelling. Acting to reduce pollution will be more cost-effective than dealing with its effects. The new air quality plan for NO2, published in December 2015, introduces a programme of Clean Air Zones (similar to London’s Low Emission Zone) where old, polluting vehicles will be discouraged from entering designated urban centres. At the same time, transition to modern cleaner vehicles will be promoted by retrofitting and upgrading transport fleets by looking at approaches to reducing emissions in NRMM, which were identified in the Temple/EIC report as promising measures in the short-term.

While implementation of the new plan is yet to happen, 2015 has been a key year for urban air pollution, showing that as a nation we will need to be ambitious and innovative on all fronts. The UK, and particularly London, will continue to face challenges along the way to improve air quality, urban population growth, major residential developments and massive infrastructure projects (such as High Speed 2, Crossrail 2 or an airport expansion) among others. We think that 2015 was only a starting point in terms of improving urban air quality. At Temple we are proud to be part of the process and are ready to work towards cleaner and more breathable cities. Please join us at our Temple BBB event on Air Pollution abatement on Wednesday 13 January, where we will discuss these and other issues.

For more information on the report, or to attend the breakfast briefing, please call 0207 394 3700 or email