Delivering the promise of air quality

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Sadiq Kahn was elected mayor of London on a pledge to tackle the city's air pollution problem. [David Holt/Flickr]

This week, London’s new Mayor, Sadiq Khan, unveiled his plans to tackle air pollution in the city. Autogas can bring the fast, cost-effective changes that cities like London so desperately need, writes Cécile Nourigat.

Cécile Nourigat is the Autogas manager at the European LPG Association (AEGPL).

Key measures for London were outlined as part of a major public consultation launched on the day of the 60th anniversary of the UK Clean Air Act.

Great progress has been achieved since the 1950s when “smog” was killing thousands of people in European industrial countries. However, air pollution is still a threat to citizens in urban areas, highlighting the fact that the fight is far from over.

Among the proposed measures, Khan put forward a detailed plan for a national diesel scrappage scheme, which the government would implement. The ideawas already hinted at by the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin earlier this month, who said that the current low tax on diesel, agreed in the aftermath of the Kyoto Protocol, has caused a dramatic rise in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in major cities, and should be “looked at”.

In the wake of the recent Dieselgate emissions scandal, air pollution caused by road transport is gaining more attention, both among policymakers and the general public. Sadiq Khan’s plans for London, together with a number of other national and local initiatives across Europe, are much-welcomed actions to improve air quality.

The irony is that discussions among national governments at European level are not always going in the same direction. For example, in the context of the negotiations on the future national ceilings for a number of pollutants, most member states are actually aligning their positions to water down the proposals from the European Parliament or the Commission. Cities will not be able to win the air pollution battle by themselves.

Several ways already exist to quickly roll out sustainable solutions for transport and deliver on air quality promises.

A number of alternative fuels have the potential to bring important gains, in both the short and long terms, and therefore should be promoted.

LPG, also called Autogas when used as transport fuel, produces far fewer of the harmful emissions that contribute to environmental and health problems, than traditional road fuels.

Tests in laboratories have proven that Autogas vehicles, on average, emit 96% less NOx than diesel vehicles. Contrary to diesel, whose fumes have been classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation since 2013, Autogas cars generate almost no particulate matter or black carbon (soot).

More recently, research on real driving emissions measured with a portable system showed that Autogas cars in normal driving conditions emit up to 97% less CO (Carbon Monoxide), and 96% less fine particulate matter than their gasoline equivalents.

Autogas, with 7.5 million vehicles in the EU served by more than 30,000 filling stations, is already widely available. Therefore, it is a possible solution to effectively reducing NOx pollution in the short term.

Other alternatives will also come into play in the future, but LPG is a low-hanging fruit that can deliver significant, cost-efficient emissions cuts today.

Cities like London are already taking initiatives to tackle the problem at its source, in response to the significant air quality deterioration in recent years.

These include the establishment of low emissions zones, congestion charges, or simple bans on the most polluting vehicles from entering city centres. In Spain and France, for example, new labels define which categories of vehicles should be favoured. It is critical that such schemes reward alternative fuels, including LPG, in line with their proven environmental benefits.

Our message to Europeans leaders is clear: it is time to put more emphasis on alternative fuels, in a technology-neutral way, to effectively tackle air pollution in cities. The future starts today.

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