Clearing the Air


Despite efforts to reverse CO2 emissions and air pollution, both are currently on the rise. In this modern era of strict air emission regulation, it is essential for countries and companies to maintain compliance with their commitments to the future. Air pollution has been a historical problem from as far back as the early 1900s with action being taken in 1956 when The Clean Air Act was enacted after London’s Great Smog of 1952 killed up to 12,000 people over a 5 day period.  After the 1997 Kyoto Protocol Climate Change Agreement called for rich nations to reduce their CO2 emissions, there was an increase in the use of diesel cars in Europe.

Diesel is less harmful to the environment as it produces less emissions than petrol. But diesel is far deadlier to humans as it emits 4 times more nitrogen dioxide and 22 times more particulates. These particles can penetrate the lungs, heart and brain. It is estimated that up to 7 million people a year will die from air pollution and in response cities around the world are trailing car-free initiatives. In this article, we will take a look at some of these modern initiatives and give you some food for thought on what you and your organisation can do to ensure that a clean and safe future is promised for generations to come.

Traffic Congestion

Traffic Congestion

In recent months, the cities of Athens, Madrid, Mexico City and Paris have made a move to ban all diesel-powered engines from their roads. Diesel cars influence urban air quality, smog formation and global warming. The view is that by decarbonising transport systems and promoting other options, pollution levels will decrease and these cities will be able to deliver on the ambition of the Paris Agreement. Manufacturers are to stop producing diesel vehicles by 2025 and the members of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group will be promoting incentives for alternative vehicle use and the promotion of cycling and walking in their cities.

In recent years, there has been increased scrutiny of the use of diesel in transport, especially in light of the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal in 2015 where it came to light that 11 million of its vehicles were equipped with software that was used to cheat on emissions tests. The software was modified to adjust components such as catalytic converters or valves to recycle some of its exhaust gases. These components were meant to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that can cause bronchitis and other respiratory diseases. During testing, it was found that some cars emitted almost 40 times the permitted levels of nitrogen oxides. Volkswagen is still dealing with the fallout. Not only did they breach several pieces of air pollution legislation and regulations, they also pleaded guilty to multiple criminal charges in the US and they have also had to pay out more than $20 billion for costs related to the scandal, highlighting the importance of complying with air pollution regulations.

Alternatives to Diesel-powered Engines

Heavily urbanised cities like London and Singapore have introduced congestion charges on vehicles entering the congestion zone between Monday and Friday. This charge aims to reduce high traffic flow in the central areas of the cities. Putting this congestion into context – traffic in London moves slower than the average cyclist. Commuters in LA spend 90 hours a year stuck in traffic and a UK study found that motorists spend 106 days of their lives looking for parking spots.

Alternative to congestion charges, there are several cities globally that have begun car-free initiatives. In Hamburg, the city is creating a green network of interconnecting open areas covering 40% of the city making it easier to walk and cycle anywhere in the city. The city aims to be car free within two decades and has a goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Additionally, Copenhagen has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in Europe and that is set to decrease further. They are currently constructing 200 miles of bicycle superhighways radiating out from the city centre. Copenhagen aims to be carbon neutral by 2025. Oslo is another city that has announced plans to shift the focus away from cars by banning all private vehicles from its centre by 2019.

Alternatives to diesel-powered engines

Alternatives to diesel-powered engines

France has one of the highest percentages of diesel car ownership due to government subsidies making the fuel cheaper than petrol. Car-free days initiatives in Paris have proven to have successfully reduced high levels of air pollution in the city. By 2020, the Mayor of Paris plans to double the number of bicycle lanes in the city, ban diesel cars, limit certain high-traffic streets to electric cars and other ultra-low emission vehicles.

Finally, new cities such as the Great City near Chengdu, China and Masdar near Abu Dhabi plan to focus on mass transit and electric cars as alternatives to diesel and petrol cars.

What sort of initiatives are in place in your organisation? Has a bike-to-work scheme or any other schemes been initiated in your organisation? Do you live in a city where alternatives to driving have been introduced and have you seen their benefits?

Knowing which pieces of air pollution legislation and regulations apply to your operations can be tricky. If you are unsure whether you are aware of all applicable pieces for your organisation and how they apply to it or if you are aware of the most recent updates – check out the Pegasus Legal Register for a legal register that is completely customised to your company and updated on an ongoing basis.


The Environmentalist

The Guardian

Air Pollution , Clean Air Acts , CO2 Emissions , Cycling , Diesel Car Ban , Kyoto Protocol , Paris Agreement
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