23 December 2013

UK air pollutant statistics 1970–2012

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has issued a statistics release detailing levels of emissions of air pollutants in the UK from 1970 to 2012.

Key insights include the following.

  • There has been a long-term decrease in the emissions of all of the pollutants covered (ammonia, NOx, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5) and SO2). For particulate matter and NMVOC, the rate of decline was most pronounced in the 1990s, and has slowed in recent years.

  • Emissions of SO2 increased in 2012 compared to 2011 by 10.7%, undoing a decrease of 7.1% in the previous year. The rate of reduction has slowed since the large decreases seen in the 1990s and has remained level since 2009 around an average of 0.41 million tonnes.

  • Emissions of NOx slightly increased in 2012 compared to 2011 by 1.6%. Emissions of PM10 stagnated in 2012 compared to 2011. All three other emissions; ammonia, NMVOCs and PM2.5; have seen slight decreases in 2012 compared to 2011, of between 1.3 and 1.7%.

  • The UK has continued to meet international obligations for emissions of the four pollutants for which it has legally binding commitments for 2010 onwards. The results are also presented alongside new commitments for emission reduction to 2020.

The full text of the statistical release is available at www.gov.uk.

EC announces air pollution policy package

The European Commission has proposed a new policy package as it aims to clean up Europe’s air.

While EU air quality policy has brought significant reductions in concentrations of harmful pollutants such as particulate matter, SO2, lead, NOx, CO and benzene, as demonstrated by Defra’s statistical release (above), major problems remain. Fine particulates and ozone, in particular, continue to present significant health risks, and safe limits for health are regularly exceeded.

The clean air policy will update existing legislation and further reduce emissions from industry, traffic, energy plants and agriculture, with a view to reducing their impact on human health and the environment.

In particular, the measures include:

  • a new Clean Air Programme for Europe with measures to ensure that existing targets are met in the short term, and new air quality objectives for the period up to 2030. The package also includes support measures to help cut air pollution, with a focus on improving air quality in cities, supporting research and innovation, and promoting international co-operation

  • a revised National Emission Ceilings Directive with stricter national emission ceilings for the six main pollutants

  • a proposal for a new directive to reduce pollution from medium-sized combustion installations, such as energy plants for street blocks or large buildings, and small industry installations.

Commenting on the package of measures, Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said: "The air we breathe today is much cleaner than in past decades. But air pollution is still an 'invisible killer' and it prevents many people from living a fully active life. The actions we are proposing will halve the number of premature deaths from air pollution, increase protection for the vulnerable groups who need it most, and improve quality of life for all. It's also good news for nature and fragile ecosystems, and it will boost the clean technology industry — an important growth sector for Europe."

The proposal is based on the conclusions of a comprehensive review of existing EU air policy. It comes after extensive consultations that found broad support for EU-wide action in this area.

More information on the package is available at http://ec.europa.eu.