What can you do to improve Local Air Quality this Festive Season?

19.12.2023 5 min read

We’ve all heard about the impacts which greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) can have on the climate around the world, including increasing drought and rainfall and affecting crop yields and areas in which malaria-carrying mosquitoes and other vectors can spread. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), formed from nitrogen oxides (NOx), and fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) can cause breathing problems, cardiovascular diseases and reduced lung function amongst other health effects. So what can you do to improve local air quality and reduce your impact on the climate, particularly during the colder months?

  1. Reduce trips made by car:

Defra’s Clean Air Strategy (2023) identifies road traffic as a key emitter of air pollution. Indeed, of the air quality management areas (areas where air quality breaches legal objectives) declared in England in 2023, 467 were declared solely due to road transport emissions, whilst only 10 were declared solely due to emissions from other sources.

By walking, cycling, or taking public transport, you’ll cut down the amount of pollution you make, reduce your exposure to air pollution and get some exercise too, and support local air quality improvement. If you’re in employment, you may have access to a Cycle to Work scheme which allows for deductions from Tax and National Insurance contributions which can effectively subsidise individuals purchasing a new bicycle. Workplaces and residential estates may also have a car-sharing scheme. There are also car clubs, where vehicles can be hired to make specific journeys, reducing the likelihood you’ll drive everywhere and the associated costs.

If you are looking to buy a newer car, meeting a more recent ‘Euro’ standard or using cleaner fuels can also be effective in reducing your emissions. Electric vehicles (EVs) generate no exhaust emissions and hybrid cars less than conventional cars. Emissions from petrol and diesel cars should be reduced, with the differences between them depending on car age and model. Evidence from schemes which incentivise the uptake of newer, cleaner vehicles demonstrates the reductions in emissions of key pollutants, as the Greater London Authority found following the rollout of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone to inner London.

Many have concerns about EV range and charge time, although in some cases these may be misconstrued. With 51,516 public charge points at over 30,000 locations (according to Zapmap) and 680,000 installed at home or in workplaces, there are plenty of charge points to choose from, although it is true that some regions benefit more than others. The average electric car has a range of 211 miles (with range varying from 100 – 300 miles by vehicle). The average driver in the UK drives 18 miles per day, with it being possible to easily make a return trip from London to Swindon by road within 211 miles. If you do get caught short, it can take just 30 minutes to charge a typical electric car at a rapid charging station, or three hours at a fast-charging station.

  1. Reduce use of wood-burning stoves and boilers:

Whilst road transport is a significant source of NO2, PM10 and PM2.5, wood-burning stoves and boilers can also affect air quality. According to the 2019 London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, domestic heat and power generation is estimated to generate 2,757 tonnes of NOx, 968 tonnes of PM10, 966 tonnes of PM2.5 and 9.86 million tonnes of CO2 per annum; equating to 33% of total CO2 emissions and 10% of total PM10 emissions. Whilst legislation now prohibits burning wet wood and coal in open fireplaces, burning (dry) wood can still expose individuals to air pollution inside their home; whilst all domestic sources including gas boilers emit to air. And don’t be tempted to use the gas fireplace this winter instead during the colder weather – natural gas emits NO2 and CO2, even if you avoid PM10 and PM2.5. Choosing sources which do not burn fuel in the home (including air source heat pumps or photovoltaic panels) or reducing the time they are used will help control emissions to air. As of November 2023, grants of up to £7,500 are available, including from the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, towards air source or ground source heat pumps. Grants for biomass boilers are also available, although there are trade-offs, as whilst biomass is renewable, burning it releases greenhouse gases and air pollutants.

  1. Reduce exposure:

Where it is possible to plan walking routes away from busy roads or busier times of day, including regular routes such as to the shops or school, this is encouraged. It’s also possible to review the Met Office’s Air Pollution Forecast, which advises on the severity of air pollution and allows people, particularly vulnerable individuals with heart or lung conditions, to reduce or avoid undertaking strenuous activity outside depending on the forecast. Air pollution from all sources is naturally worse in the winter due to unfavourable atmospheric conditions, so exposure to pollutants would be higher, even if we weren’t using more heating than during the summer.

Temple’s air quality and climate change team are frequently requested to undertake assessments to accompany planning applications, to ensure new development does not have impacts or expose new residents to harmful pollutants. We’re also an accredited B Corp with a deep commitment to the creation of social value and a strong social value team to help drive behaviour change. We’re experienced in both providing local authorities with specific air quality advice and engaging communities for environmental initiatives, having worked with businesses and public sector organisations to improve air quality and green spaces in the Watford Green Zone and Surrey residents in support of the County Council’s Local Travel Plan Furthermore, we provide ecology advice, including on how tree-planting can be considered strategically to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help to improve air quality. If we can help further, please get in touch.

Key Contacts

Daniel Mullick Principal Consultant - Air Quality
Dr Xiangyu Sheng Director - Air Quality, Climate & Carbon