Supreme Court ruling: wake-up call for alternative fuels 29 April 2015

The Supreme Court – the highest court in the land – has today (29 April 2015) ruled that the UK government must act faster to meet its obligations under EU air pollution regulations.

In a unanimous judgement, the court ruled that the government must submit new air quality plans to the European Commission no later than 31 December 2015, following its failure to comply with EU law setting limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution in areas across the UK, , regardless of the election outcome on 7 May.

Strict limits were set on the NOx concentrations under the EU's air quality directive, and came into force on 1 January 2010 – although member states could defer achieving the requirements, provided they had plans to reach the limits within an agreed timeframe.

However, ClientEarth has been pursuing a case through the UK courts suggesting that, in the absence of demonstrable lans, the UK government has failed to fulfil its obligations.

Hence the new ruling, which coincides with stark findings from a study published this week by the WHO (World Health Organisation), estimating that the UK suffers some £54 billion of economic costs each year associated with air pollution.

The WHO reckons this accounts for 3.7% of GDP in Britain where 29,000 people are estimated to die prematurely each year from air pollution.

"Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call for the government and wider transport industry – which is responsible for the bulk of NO2 emissions – that the development and adoption of natural gas-fuelled vehicles should be greatly speeded up," comments Gasrec chief executive officer Rob Wood.

"At present, there are around 700 such heavy goods vehicles operating daily on UK roads [but] this number could be exponentially increased with the right incentives and desire to improve UK wide air quality."

Wood suggests that the DfT (Department for Transport) already knows that HGVs represent around 2% of road vehicles yet produce a disproportionately high 20% of road related CO2.

Trucks are also responsible for high levels of NO2 and particulates emissions. And although Euro 6 will significantly reduce these emissions, there are relatively few Euro 6vehicles in the UK truck parc and no incentives – other than slightly reduced fuel consumption – to encourage adoption.

However, Wookd points out that HGVs using LNG or CNG fuel – which can be enhanced with biomethane derived from waste products – can deliver CO2 savings of up to 70% and substantially reduce NO2 emissions while virtually eliminating particulates.

"We would urge the UK government to follow the lead of other European cities, like Paris, which has a plan to remove most diesel vehicles by 2020 and replace diesel busses with much cleaner gas fuelled busses," insists Wood.

"This approach also makes commercial sense as running on gas is less costly than diesel even after capital costs are factored in."

Brian Tinham

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