UK plans to emit zero carbon emissions by 2025, but how?

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The United Kingdom has promised to protect its citizens by complying with the World Health Organisation’s advice to reduce carbon emissions by at least 50%, by 2025.

In the UK, the responsibility for meeting air quality limit values is devolved to the national administrations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is responsible for meeting the limit values in England, while the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) assesses air quality plans for the entire United Kingdom. Air pollution is monitored by the Environment Agency, who manage around 300 of the UK’s national monitoring sites on behalf of Defra and the devolved administrations. The sites monitor pollutants and collect data which then produce a report on the quality of the air for any given region.

Professor John Bryson, Enterprise and Economic Geography at The University of Birmingham. Photo: University of Birmingham

Professor John Bryson, Enterprise and Economic Geography at The University of Birmingham, told Eat News, “This is really a matter for the European Commission (EC) rather than the UK government. The EC must ensure that all member states identify sources of air pollutants and act to reduce omissions and this includes ensuring that all HGV vehicles are as ‘green’ as is possible. Thus, high-polluting vehicles – of all types – must be removed from the European roads and such a move would enhance life chances across the EU. The EC should be setting the standard for all nations to follow. I would assume that the UK standard might keep in line with the EC or might move ahead. In any case, the key point is that air pollution kills and reduces life chances of some of the most venerable people and must be addressed. Within one area of EC policy there is an emphasis placed on ‘smart’ policy as in smart specialisation. The relationship between ‘smart’ and ‘policy’ is interesting, but perhaps a better alternative would be ‘responsible policy’. Thus, the EU must ensure that all policies are responsible and by this, I mean responsible for the ‘now’ and for the future. This is not currently the case.”

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Action to manage and improve air quality is somewhat driven by European (EU) legislation. The 2008 Ambient Air Quality Directive sets legally binding limits for concentrations in outdoor air of major air pollutants that impact public health. The EU took the UK to court in 2018 over failures to tackle air pollution.

However, all governing bodies in the UK are currently required by the Environment Act 1995 to produce a national air quality strategy. The Act requires authorities to review air quality in their area and designate areas of improvement where necessary. The latest of the executive summaries published was the Clean Air Strategy (CAS) 2019. The summary explores objectives at a national, regional, and local level, as well as considerations for industrial and household contributions to the national air problem. The Clean Air Strategy states that air quality is the largest environmental health risk in the UK. It also aims to reduce the costs associated with air pollution by £17 billion.

The strategy reads, “We will progressively cut public exposure to particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) as suggested by the World Health Organization. We will set a new, ambitious, long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to CO2, NO2 and PM2.5 and will publish evidence early in 2019 to examine what action would be needed to meet the WHO annual mean guideline. By implementing the policies in this strategy, we will reduce pollutant concentrations across the UK, so that the number of people living in locations above the WHO guideline level is reduced by 50% by 2025. By taking action on air pollution we can help people live well for longer.”

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Sustainable travel is a priority for the CAS, with plans to invest over £2 billion in cleaner transport. by 2040, the rail industry will put forward recommendations and route maps to move towards phasing out trains running on diesel. £60 million is to be put towards new, clean buses and plug-in taxis, as well as £1 billion going into charging infrastructure across the UK. The Road to Zero report unveiled plans to reduce road emissions by 2040. The hope is that the UK will become a leader in adopting clean technology on road networks and electric vehicles.

On an industrial scale, coal-fired power plants have been closed and now only four remain, the last of which will be phased out by 2025. Refineries are limited to six across the country, but there are currently no plans to reduce this number and there are growing concerns that a no-deal Brexit could prematurely force them out of business. Instead, according to GOV.UK, petroleum refineries are subject to the following regulations: upstream abatement by ensuring fuel is as clean as possible (burning low sulphur refinery or natural gas); using abatement inside a boiler or reactor in which reactions are taking place, ensuring combustion is as complete as possible; and abating releases downstream of combustion plant or reactors.

Further objectives include providing a personal air quality messaging system to inform the public about air quality forecasts; working with media outlets to improve public access to the forecast; and working to improve air quality by helping individuals and organisations understand how they can reduce their contribution. Organisations and individuals are being encouraged to take note of their carbon footprint and reduce it accordingly. The strategy plans to, “legislate to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuels; ensure that only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022; make changes to existing smoke control legislation to make it easier to enforce; give new powers to local authorities to take action in areas of high pollution.”

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Emily Lowes is an Eat News correspondent in the UK who has experience writing social, political, and economic features for a range of news outlets. She is an avid communicator, activist, and advocate for the freedom of information.


Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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