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Showing posts from 2011

A Diesely Dilemma

However sure you are of something it’s always nice to have confirmation. In the field of air quality recent research on emissions from vehicles in Southwark has confirmed what a study led by Kings College told us earlier this year – diesel cars are (relatively) dirty.

This won’t come as a surprise to many. Until recently diesel cars were thought to be dirty beasts suitable only for the thrifty and ultra-high mileage drivers. I know this only too well - when I was offered a new company car back in 2000 I made what I thought was a daring decision at the time and plumped for a diesel. My friends gasped in horror that I’d go for such an agricultural vehicle, whilst my uncle commented that when I pulled up he thought a taxi had arrived.

Oh how times have changed. Over the past decade UK sales of diesel cars have grown from a fraction of the market to parity with petrol car sales. In the market for larger cars this trend has gone even further, and diesel engined vehicles make up the vast ma…

Do We Really Need Environmental NGOs?

So farewell then Environmental Protection UK (EPUK). The UK’s oldest environmental NGO (Non Governmental Organisation), known for most of its life as the National Society for Clean Air, last week announced that it was shutting up shop as a funded and staffed organisation. If it continues it will do so on a purely voluntary basis.

EPUK is not the first NGO that's run into problems in the current harsh financial climate, and it won't be the last. Running an NGO has always been something of a wing and a prayer activity, and establishing cash reserves when your focus is delivering on your charitable objectives is extremely difficult. People donating money want it to be spent on delivery, not stashed away in a bank account. Consequently many NGOs run with reserves that cover only a few months of operation and when individual giving and Government grants dry up (as they have done) they can quickly get into trouble. Larger NGOs have been cutting back, and many smaller ones are going t…

MPs Blast Government Over Air Pollution Failures

Parliamentary Select Committees are rarely kind to Governments. With a remit to scrutinise the Government's record they normally pick policy areas where heals are being dragged rather than shining examples of success. But even against this background accusing the Government of 'putting the health of the nation at risk' is quite strong stuff.

This statement is contained in a new report from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), 'Air Quality: A Follow Up Report'. The document is a successor to the EAC's 2010 'Air Quality' report, a wide ranging examination of the previous Government's record on air quality. The new report is shorter and more focused, examining what's changed since the previous report was published and making suggestions for key policy changes.

As with any select committee report the Committee invited submissions of evidence from organisations and individuals, in his case attracting 26 written submissions. They also heard in perso…

The Curious Case of the Vanishing Car Taxes

The recent Road Ahead Group report on reform of vehicle taxation publicised one of the unintended consequences of UK and European 'green' vehicle legislation – cleaner vehicles could hugely reduce the Government’s income from vehicle taxes.European legislation has now set a road map for the average CO2 emissions (and hence fuel economy) from new cars. The Government is also strongly encouraging alternative fuels such as battery electric vehicles. As a result cars are becoming far more fuel efficient, and fuel sales are now starting to fall. This process is set to continue for the foreseeable future.Making a few assumptions, the Treasury’s own figures suggest that fuel tax receipts will fall from 1.8% of GDP in 2010 to 1.0% by 2030, and vehicle excise duty receipts will fall from 0.4% to 0.1% of GDP over the same period. And that's assuming modest increases in the mileage driven.Of course falling tax receipts may not be the only consequence of more efficient cars. There…

A Road Ahead to Greener Driving?

A new report from the Road Ahead Group (published by the RAC Foundation) makes some intriguing suggestions for reform of motoring taxation via an alternative model for road pricing.The gold standard for a reform of motoring taxation would be a full national road pricing scheme. This would replace some or all of the current motoring taxes with a variable charge per mile driven. Using busy roads during peak times would incur a hefty charge, whilst driving on quiet roads away from peak times would cost very little. Whilst this system is technically feasible it has significant downsides. It would be costly, bureaucratic and mean tracking of vehicles and their drivers on a scale that would make many fear 'Big Brother' style state intrusion intotheir lives. But above all full road pricing is considered by many to be politically unacceptable, and liable to see any party who implemented it rejected at the ballot box.The Road Ahead Group have proposed a half-way house to road pricing …

Carbon Capture Plan Collapses – A Set Back or an Opportunity?

The Government's plans for carbon capture and storage (CCS) were dealt a major blow yesterday with the collapse of plans to fit CCS equipment to the Longannet power station in Fife. The Government has commitment to fund up to four CCS demonstration schemes, however the collapse of the Longannet scheme means it will now have to start from scratch - there are no other potential CCS schemes currently under consideration.Yesterday's announcement was prompted by ballooning costs for the scheme. The Government had committed £1 billion of funding for the project, but the length of the pipeline needed to transport carbon dioxide from the plant to undersea reservoirs meant that the project would cost at least £1.3 billion, prompting the plant's owner, Scottish and Southern Energy, to pull out.The Government has clearly stated that it is the technical difficulties at the Longannet plant, rather than with CCS as a whole, that has made the scheme non-viable. However, there is no doubt…

Nitrogen Dioxide - A Climbdown or Just a Change of Direction?

The recent announcement that the Government will not be seeking a time extension for meeting European nitrogen dioxide limit values has been hailed as a victory for campaigners. The health based limits for the pollutant gas should have been met last year (2010), however they are still widely exceeded across the UK. Earlier this year the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published draft plans for seeking a 5 year extension (to 2015) from the European Commission. However, in order to secure the extension the plans had to show that the UK would be fully compliant by the extended deadline. Responses to the DEFRA consultation pointed out the glaring admission in the plans that it would be 2025 before all of the UK would comply, and that the extension application would therefore fall at this most elementary hurdle.The same campaigners were ready to lobby the European Commission to ensure that they enforced their own rules with regard to the UK's application. Fa…