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Clean air and net zero

Report: local authorities leading the way as ministers ‘drag feet’ on integrating clean air and net zero policies
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
An aerial view of the Veolia Recycling and Energy Recovery Plant in Leeds, with a living wall or vertical garden for net zero output and carbon capture

Main image: Aerial view of the Veolia Recycling and Energy Recovery Plant in Leeds, with a living wall or vertical garden for net zero output and carbon capture

A new report argues that Birmingham, Camden, Hertfordshire, Leeds and Nottingham are leading the way in integrating climate and clean air policies but ministers’ ‘refusal to recognise the importance of joined-up policymaking’ is stalling wider progress.

The report, What CANZ be done?, was released today (30 Jan) by UK100, the UK’s only cross-party network of local leaders committed to ambitious Net Zero and clean air action.

It follows the release of the organisation’s Yes We CANZ! report in June 2022, which introduced the concept of Clean Air Net Zero (CANZ) — ensuring net zero policies include a clean air audit and vice versa.

Extra 2m years of life

The report comes in the wake of a new study published in The Lancet that finds clean air and net zero action will give people in England and Wales an extra 2 million years of life.

It argued not enough has yet been done to learn from the mistakes that led to dieselgate, where diesel vehicles were promoted across Europe as a climate-friendly option without regard to the increase in deadly air pollution emissions associated with diesel combustion.

‘Aligning Clean air and Net Zero (CANZ) isn’t pie in the sky — local authority leaders from Birmingham to Wiltshire are already taking ambitious and joined-up action to great effect. 

‘But wider progress is being hampered by the government’s lack of a coherent national strategy, disjointed short-term funding and a refusal to recognise the importance of CANZ. Local leaders are ready to support the government to maximise the win-wins of an approach to vital clean air and Net Zero action that offers more than the sum of its parts.

‘We call on the Defra Secretary of State, Thérèse Coffey, or Minister, Rebecca Pow, to reconsider their refusal to consider the recommendations of UK100 members and sit down to meet with the local leaders that can set a nationwide example to follow.’

Interim chief executive of UK100

CANZ was raised in Parliament earlier this month (16 Jan) when Defra Minister Rebecca Pow MP issued a flat refusal to a Written Question from Shadow Minister Stephen Morgan MP, asking whether Defra would consider the recommendations in UK100’s Yes We CANZ! report.

What CANZ be done? features case studies on the joined-up CANZ action being taken by cross-party local leaders in Birmingham City Council, the London Borough of Camden, Hertfordshire County Council, Leeds City Council and Nottingham City Council.

It will be sent directly to Defra with a plea from UK100 for ministers to reconsider their reluctance to engage with the issue.

‘Linking activity on Clean Air and Net Zero can help drive your officers together, your politicians together, and your communities together over action which is bigger than the sum of its parts.’

Programme manager of Air Quality at Hertfordshire Council Council

Empowering local leaders

The letter to ministers also requests a meeting with the secretary of state to discuss how UK100 can support the government to empower local leaders across the country to follow Birmingham, Camden, Hertfordshire, Leeds and Nottingham’s lead on CANZ.

From a Clean Air Zone in Birmingham to region-wide collaboration in Hertfordshire, the report uses case studies to highlight the local authorities already taking action to exploit the four key ‘win-wins’ of CANZ:

Supporting a transport shift away from private car reliance; making homes warmer through insulation and energy-efficiency measures while switching to fossil-fuel-free heating systems; working with the agricultural industry to support less intensive farming and reduce the level of ammonia emissions and empowering local communities to make informed choices with more data transparency and access.

At the same time, however, the report restates the policy areas where a careful balance between the clean air and Net Zero agendas is necessary, including learning the lessons of dieselgate and carefully considering which vehicles are most beneficial overall as the UK transitions away from petrol and diesel-only vehicles; balancing the carbon emission reductions linked to ‘low carbon’ heating fuels, like biomass and hydrogen, with the negative impacts on local air quality; understanding the unintended consequences of poorly designed tree planting and green infrastructure policies and considering the trade-off associated with air-tight energy efficiency schemes and the ventilation needs to improve indoor air quality.

‘The benefit we’ve got from our structure is having a wide team who have a really deep understanding of the two issues – so when people are working on specific projects they can understand the implications for both.’

Chief officer, Sustainable Energy and Air Quality at Leeds City Council

Alongside case studies from Birmingham City Council, the London Borough of Camden, Hertfordshire County Council, Leeds City Council and Nottingham City Council, What CANZ be done? makes an honourable mention of the work being done by Bath and North East Somerset Council, Wiltshire Council, Southampton City Council and Cornwall Council.

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