Imperial academics share insights on Environment Bill with parliamentarians

Imperial and LSE academics held a roundtable with members of the House of Lords to share insights on the Environment Bill.

The meeting, organised by The Forum at Imperial and the London School of Economics (LSE), was an opportunity for the researchers to highlight how to ensure that the Environment Bill, which is currently before Parliament, can be most effective at improving air quality in the coming decades.

The briefing session from the LSE and Imperial College London to peers was a great example of the political and academic sectors working together. Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

Chaired by Lord Teverson, Chair of the Lords EU Environment Sub-Committee, Imperial academics Professor Frank Kelly, Dr Audrey de Nazelle and Dr Marc Stettler and LSE economist Dr Sefi Roth presented their research around air quality and outlined how the bill, and wider government policy, can best reduce air pollution.

The Environment Bill creates a framework for the government to set environmental targets in areas like air quality, water, biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction. It will also introduce a new regulator, the Office of Environmental Protection, which will replace scrutiny and advice functions currently provided by the EU.

Professor Frank Kelly, Humphrey Battcock Chair of Environment and Health at Imperial’s School of Public Health, provided a brief introduction to his work and recommendations for the bill. He spoke about the Environmental Research Group, which has transferred from King’s College London to Imperial under his leadership, and the London Air Quality Network which investigates links between poor air quality, urban life and health outcomes.

Professor Kelly questioned the current focus in the bill on one air quality metric, PM2.5, which refers to fine particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres across. He emphasised the need to consider other pollutants and noted the significant long-term effects of pollution on health.

Professor Kelly went on to highlight the importance of the UK following the World Health Organization’s recommended guideline limit of PM2.5 at 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air to reduce the mortality and morbidity effects of air pollution.

Dr Sefi Roth, Assistant Professor of Environmental Economics at the London School of Economics, spoke about his work on finding the right balance between economic activity and environmental protection. He outlined his concerns around the Environment Bill, including how national yearly averages of PM2.5 could pollution ‘hotspots’, instead favouring daily and local targets.

Dr Roth highlighted the need for environmental policy to take into account groups particularly sensitive to pollution exposure, such as children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with certain pre-existing health conditions.

Dr Audrey de Nazelle, Co-Deputy Director of Imperial’s Centre of Environmental Policy, made the case for a holistic approach to policymaking which recognises how an issue like air pollution must be tackled by bringing together different policy areas. She spoke about how we need to consider technological solutions, such as electric vehicles, as well as behavioural changes such as increased walking and cycling.

Dr de Nazelle emphasised the need for the Environment Bill to encourage joined-up thinking and that we should be setting a pathway for monitoring emerging pollutants, and echoed Professor Kelly’s support for keeping PM2.5 levels below 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air. Dr de Nazelle also noted the central role which local authorities must play in tackling ill-health, inequality and climate change, but that adequate funding is needed for them to do so.

Dr Marc Stettler, Senior Lecturer in Transport and the Environment at Imperial, was the final academic to give his views. His work aims to quantify emissions from transport, particularly road and aviation. Dr Stettler informed participants that PM2.5 is complex mixture of particles of different sizes, and echoed points the need for the PM2.5 target to be ambitious and the bill to cover a greater range of air pollutants.

He also argued that government policy around planning should complement its environmental ambitions, ensuring that air quality is a key part of planning policy going forward.

The roundtable, which was attended by fourteen members of the House of Lords who will be debating and voting on the Environment Bill in the coming months, covered a range of related issues, including the positive developments seen in London from cleaner transport such as hybrid and electric buses, the role of financial incentives in ensuring behavioural change, and the need to recognise how policies to tackle climate change and air pollution are interconnected.

Speaking after the event, Lord Teverson, Chair of the Lords EU Environment Sub-Committee, said: “The briefing session from the LSE and Imperial College London to peers was a great example of the political and academic sectors working together.

“The government’s Environment Bill is a landmark piece of legislation. Most amendments to bills take place in the House of Lords, so this was a great opportunity for peers and academics to share knowledge and see where this legislation can be improved.

“I am sure a number of important amendments, around clean air in particular, will be tabled as a result when the bill arrives from the Commons in the New Year.”

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