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Improving and monitoring air quality – select committees, satellites and Brexit

Further Parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s proposals

With the Government on its third attempt to meet legal air quality standards, the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health, and Transport Committees have on the 9 October 2017 re-launched their joint cross-party inquiry into improving air quality, see here. 

The inquiry will examine the Government’s new air quality plan released in July 2017, after UK courts twice ruled that the Government’s plans to cut air pollution were inadequate. The cross-party inquiry will examine whether this new plan goes far enough and fast enough to both meet legal limits and to deliver the maximum environmental and health benefits. It will also explore how effectively departments work together across Whitehall to tackle air pollution.

The Committee invites written submissions (expressly encouraging members of underrepresented groups) on the following key questions by 9 November 2017:

  • How effectively do Government policies take into account the health and environmental impacts of poor air quality?
  • Do these plans set out effective and proportionate measures to achieve necessary emissions reductions as quickly as possible?
  • Are other nations or cities taking more effective action that the UK can learn from?
  • Is there enough cross-government collaboration to set in place the right fiscal and policy incentives?
  • How can those charged with delivering national plans at local level be best supported and challenged?

Launch of Sentinel-5P satellite to monitor air quality

In order to improve assessment of air quality improvement measures, as the relaunched inquiry is seeking to do, the available information is of course crucial. I was therefore struck by last week’s news about the launch of this UK based satellite:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-41604186

Sentinel-5P is a contribution to the EU’s Copernicus Earth monitoring programme and is being procured with the European Space Agency and pulls together all Earth-monitoring data from space and the ground. In particular it is, as the report notes:

  • Expected to be invaluable to scientists studying climate change
  • Important for disaster response - earthquakes, floods, fires etc.
  • Data will also help design and enforce EU policies: fishing quotas etc.

The satellite’s instruments will build daily global maps of key gases that contribute to pollution. These include nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide.

But what about Brexit? As the report also makes clear, although Copernicus and its Sentinels are an EU initiative, UK ministers have made it clear they do not want to leave the programme when the country quits the European Union in March 2019 – see the recent Brexit position paper on science here. 

Hopefully that sensible stance and co-operation at least will not be too controversial.