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Sound and independent information
on the environment

United Kingdom

Air pollution (United Kingdom)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 30 Nov 2010

The quality of air in the United Kingdom is currently better than at any point since before the industrial revolution. However, atmospheric pollution is currently estimated to reduce the life expectancy of every person in the UK by an average of 6 months with estimated equivalent health costs of up to £19 billion a year. This is in addition to wider environmental damage including change in species composition, change in ecosystem function and decreased agricultural yields.

We need to undertake further research into how air pollution impacts health and the environment to inform future policy decisions. In the long term, understanding the interplay between air pollution and climate change could provide large mutual benefits.

Details of UK policy can be found in the UK Air Quality Strategy, and the UK Air Quality Archive.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Particulate matter (PM10)

The objective that by the end of 2004 the 24 hour mean should not exceed 50 µg/m³ more than 35 times a year was not met at six sites. The objective that by 2004 the annual mean should not exceed 40 µg/m³ was exceeded only at London Marylebone Road. 

 

PM10 annual mean: Comparison with health objective for 2004: 1992-2008 Urban Sites

PM10 annual mean: Comparison with health objective for 2004: 1992-2008 Urban Sites

 

 PM10 fixed 14 hour mean: Number of days exceeding 50µg/m3 compared with health objective for 2004: Urban sites 1992-2008

PM10 fixed 14 hour mean: Number of days exceeding 50µg/m3 compared with health objective for 2004: Urban sites 1992-2008

 

More information can be found in Defra’s particulate statistics


Annual mean background PM10 concentration, 2008 (µg m-3, gravimetric)

Annual mean background PM10 concentration, 2008 (g m-3, gravimetric)

Map from EIONET Central Data Repository

 

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)

The figures below show trends in exceedences at urban sites of the objective levels for the 1-hour and health-based annual mean respectively. There were 6 sites where hourly concentrations reached 'moderate' levels in 2006. None of the sites exceeded the EC Alert Threshold on any one day.

Nitrogen Dioxide 1 hour mean: Number of periods exceeding 200µg/m3 compared with health objective for 2005: Urban Sites 1987-2008.

Nitrogen Dioxide 1 hour mean: Number of periods exceeding 200µg/m3 compared with health objective for 2005: Urban Sites 1987-2008.

 

 

Nitrogen Dioxide annual mean: Comparison with health objective for 2005: 1987-2008, µg/m3

Nitrogen Dioxide annual mean: Comparison with health objective for 2005: 1987-2008

 

More information can be found in Defra’s nitrogen dioxide statistics.

 

Urban major urban roads, annual mean roadside NO2 concentration, 2008, µg m-3

Urban major urban roads, annual mean roadside NO2 concentration, 2008 (g m-3):

Map from EIONET Central Data Repository

 

Tropospheric Ozone

There has been a marked increase in ozone concentrations in urban areas since the 1990s, due to the reduction in urban emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX), which destroy ozone close to their emission source. Rural ozone levels averaged 71 µg m-3 in 2008 compared to 74 µg m-3 in 2006 and 68 µg m-3 in 1993. There is no clear long term trend.

From year to year there can be significant variations caused by the weather.

 

Annual levels of ozone 1987-2008: index shows annual mean of the daily maximum 8-hour running mean.

Annual levels of ozone 1987-2008: index shows annual mean of the daily maximum 8-hour running mean.

Further information can be found at particulate/ozone statistics.

 

Number of days with ozone concentration > 120 µg m-3 in 2008

Number of days with ozone concentration > 120 g m-3 2008

Map from EIONET Central Data Repository

 

Acidification and Eutrophication

Currently, 54 per cent of all habitat areas sensitive to acidification exceed the critical load for acidity, predominantly due to the deposition of nitrates.

Despite reductions in ammonia emissions, total N-deposition has changed little. Currently, 58 per cent of all habitat areas sensitive to eutrophication from N-deposition exceed the critical load for nutrient nitrogen.

 

Human Health impacts

Air pollution is currently estimated to reduce life expectancy by an average of 6 months with estimated equivalent health costs of up to £19 billion a year. There is currently an underestimation of the full range of possible health benefits that could be attained from policy measures to improve air quality, because it has not been possible to quantify all health outcomes. Work to review the evidence is ongoing and it is expected that this would lead to an increase in the number of health outcomes identified.

 

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Key drivers:

Population

 

The overall population of the UK is estimated to be almost 61.8 million in 2009, up from 55.6 million in 1970 and 57.2 million in 1990. 62 per cent of the population is assumed to be of working age. For more information see population statistics.

UK population by gender and age, 2009

 

UK population by gender and age, 2009

 

 

Economic growth

 

Between 1990 and 2008, GDP grew in real terms by 55 per cent. For more information see GDP statistics.

Chained volume mesures

 

Energy demand

 

Since 1999, indigenous energy production has fallen from being 22 per cent above consumption to 21 per cent less than consumption. For more information see Energy statistics.

 

Energy production

 

Transport

 

Road traffic in Great Britain has grown by 85 per cent between 1980 and 2009 from 277 to 514 billion vehicle kilometres, as demonstrated in the Department for Transport report Transport Trends 2009.

 

 

Key Pressures:

 

Information regarding pressures relating to the drivers displayed above is held in the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory.

 

Sulphur dioxide (SO2

Since 1970, there has been a substantial overall reduction of more than 92 per cent in SO2 emissions to 512kT.

SO2 emissions

 

Ammonia (NH3

Emissions in 2008 represent a decrease of 23 per cent on the 1990 emissions, to 281kT. The most significant cause of reductions in recent years has been decreasing cattle numbers in the UK.

 

NH3

 

Nitrogen oxides (NOX)

 

Since 1970, overall NOX emissions have decreased by 53 per cent to 1403 kT, mainly as a result of a 58 per cent decrease from road transport.

(iii)	NOX

Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs)

 

NMVOC emissions in 2008 were well below the 2010 ceiling at 942 kT.

 

(iv)  NMVOC

 

Methane (CH4)

 

Since 1970, the total methane emission in the UK has declined by 51 per cent to 2312 kT.

(v)    CH4

 

Particulate matter (PM10)

Emissions of PM10 have declined by 73 per cent since 1970, to 133 kT.

(vi)  PM10

 

Particulate matter (PM2.5)

 

Emissions of PM2.5 have declined greatly, to 81kT in 2008.

(vii)             PM2.5

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

The table below demonstrates change over time in UK emissions of atmospheric pollutants covered by the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD), including predictions for 2010. The UK is currently predicted to exceed the 2010 NOX ceiling, with compliance expected by 2012.

 

Emissions of air pollutants under the National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD), UK, 1970 – 2008, kilotonnes.

 

1970

1990

2008

Estimated uncertainty (2008)

% change 1970 to 2008

% change 1990 to 2008

NECD target

Sulphur dioxide

6,365

3,715

512

+/- 4%

-92%

-86%

585
(on course to meet target)

Nitrogen oxides

2,983

2,749

1,403

+/- 10%

-53%

-49%

1,167
(target unlikely to be met)

Non-methane volatile organic compounds

1,817

2,569

942

-9 to + 10 %

-48%

-63%

1,200
(on course to meet target)

Ammonia

-

366

282

+/- 20%

-

-23%

297 
(on course to meet target)

 

Further emissions reductions are expected for all pollutants, with the exception of NH3 for which little decrease in emissions is expected beyond 2010 based on ‘business as usual’ projections.

The Critical Load Exceedance for acidification is predicted to decrease to 40 % of habitat areas by 2020 in the absence of further measures. The Critical Load Exceedance for eutrophication due to nutrient nitrogen is expected to decrease to 48 % of habitat areas by 2020.

 

Percentage habitat area

 

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 30 Nov 2010

The UK’s main policies and measures for achieving National Emissions Ceilings and ambient air quality limit values are set out in the revised Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, published in July 2007. Responsibility for implementing these measures rests with Defra and the devolved Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (the Devolved Administrations). 

The UK is currently on course to meet its NECD 2010 emission ceilings for SO2, VOCs and NH3.  However, like many other European countries, the UK is currently projected to exceed its 2010 NOX ceiling by a small percentage with compliance expected by 2012. The situation is being closely monitored with a view to meeting the ceiling as soon as possible.

UK legislative controls on emissions to air from industrial installations have been vital to improving air quality locally, nationally and internationally. Large industrial installations (some 4,500 in the UK) are subject to integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) which requires limit values (ELVs) to be set on the basis of best available techniques for all likely significant emissions. This approach is also used in regulating air emissions for some 20,000 smaller industrial installations.

Both national and local government consider air quality issues when developing transport interventions. Current key national transport measures to improve air quality include:

·         Implementation of Euro Standards to improve vehicle fleets.

·         A Reduced Pollution Certificate scheme for lorries and buses that met the Euro V standard before it became mandatory in 2009. These provided reductions of up to £500 in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) for eligible vehicles, and by June 2009 had brought forward the emission reduction benefits of the Euro V standard for 30,677 vehicles.

·         A new Reduced Pollution Certificate scheme which will provide HGV operators with annual VED discounts of up to £500 for early compliance with the Euro VI air quality standard.  This will be awarded for five years only, to support the environmental integrity of the scheme.

·         £45m Green Bus fund to encourage uptake of low-emission buses. The money will fund in the region of 500 buses which will be in place by April 2012.

·         Making provision for over £400m for measures to promote the uptake of ultra-low carbon vehicle technologies. These include: supporting consumer incentives for electric and other low emission cars throughout the life of the current (as of 2010) Parliament; continued investment in electric vehicle recharging infrastructure (Plugged In Places); and further research and development.

·         Promoting sustainable travel measures through funding of over £140 million to support cycling and walking between 2008 and 2011. From 2011 a Local Sustainable Transport Fund will provide £560m funding over four years to local authorities to support sustainable travel.

·         A Sustainable Distribution Fund to encourage freight transport by rail, inland waterway, or sea. The scheme has a confirmed budget of £20m for 2010/11, and £20m for 2011/12 and will expect to remove around 1.5 million lorry journeys in that time.

The UK Government and Devolved Administrations recently published guidance to local authorities to promote the uptake of low emission vehicles, low emission zones and other measures. Many local authorities have introduced measures to improve local air quality, including partnerships with bus and freight operators to improve the air quality performance of buses and HGVs, and Low Emission Zones to discourage the most polluting vehicles from entering urban areas. 

Optimising synergies from energy efficiency measures, low carbon vehicles, and increased use of non-combustion renewable energy, are all beneficial to improving air quality. The scale of carbon reductions that the UK has committed to for 2050 means there should be significant co-benefits achievable for both air quality and climate change. The UK Government is considering how these can be maximised.

Disclaimer

The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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