There have been a number of developments in relation to air quality since our blog post last week:

  1. The Committee on Climate Change queried the Government's ability to meet future carbon targets if the Heathrow expansion is allowed to proceed.
  2. Courts have given the Government 8 months to produce a new national air quality plan.

Revision of the National Emissions Ceilings Directive ("NECD")

On 23 November 2016 the European Parliament endorsed the deal to revise the NECD. The revision will encompass emission reductions for SO2, NOx, NMVOC, NH3 and PM2.5 for 2020 and 2030. The national emission limits for 2020 remain the same as those in the Gothenburg Protocol, such as a reduction in NOx emissions in the UK by 55% (against 2005 base level) by 2020. But the revised NECD sets additional targets for 2030, including a 73% reduction in NOx.

The deal has been controversial as the European Commission's proposed emissions reductions were watered down, and the suggested methane reduction target of 33% by 2030 was scrapped. Methane arises mainly from the agricultural sector and is also a greenhouse gas. It also contributes to the formation of ozone, which impacts negatively on public health. The EU Climate Commissioner (Miguel Arias Cañete) has said that the European Commission may consider separate legislation for methane, which is likely to be a source of uncertainty for gas distribution companies and possibly significant users of natural gas.

The Council is due to adopt the revised NECD on 8 December 2016 and the revised EU Directive will then need to be transposed into domestic law by 15 February 2017.

The Heathrow expansion

In our last blog post, we discussed the impact of the ClientEarth (No.2) case ruling on the Heathrow expansion. Since then, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, has written a letter to the BEIS Secretary, estimating that the expansion may raise the aviation sector's emissions by 15% by 2050 against 2005 levels. However, under the Fifth Carbon Budget the UK is legally required to reduce its carbon emissions by 61% by 2030 (relative to 1990). It is understood that the Department for Transport will be coordinating with the BEIS Secretary on the Emissions Reduction Plan to be published early next year, which will seek to achieve the Fifth Carbon Budget and take into account future aviation emissions.

Furthermore, this week the Environmental Audit Committee ("EAC") is due to question the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, on the environmental aspects of the Heathrow expansion. The EAC will hear oral evidence on how the Airports Commission Report regarding carbon emissions, air quality and noise at Heathrow informed the Government's decision.

The new national air quality plan

Following the ClientEarth (No.2) decision, the High Court has since ordered the Government to prepare a revised national air quality plan within 8 months. The draft must be published by 24 April 2017 and finalised by the end of July. The current air quality plan was based on over-optimistic estimates of future emissions, however the High Court has now ruled that the public will be able to scrutinise the technical data behind the new plan.

In addition to the 6 clean air zones proposed in the current plan, Justice Garnham has suggested that DEFRA may need to include one for Glasgow and the Government also suggested adding South Wales.