THE BLOG

Political Wrangling Over Car Emissions Shows One Thing, the UK Cannot Go It Alone When Tackling Air Pollution

11/11/2015 15:37 GMT | Updated 11/11/2016 10:12 GMT

At the end of October, Labour MEPs backed and won a range of measures that will go a long way to cleaning up the UK's air.

But while MEPs were voting to strengthen the rules in Strasbourg, the UK government and other member states were busy in Brussels, letting carmakers like VW off the hook and giving them greater leeway to break current EU rules on harmful emissions.

Clearly not satisfied that 90% of cars already break current legal standards, they decided to allow manufacturers, including VW, to emit double the current legal amount of nitrogen oxide (NOx) between 2017-2020, and 50% extra after 2020.

This is the same NOx that kills thousands of people across the UK every year and has been linked with a range of respiratory diseases, cancers, and pulmonary heart disease.

It is a scandal, and shows the UK government has clearly refused to learn from the VW emissions test fiasco, and has put the interests of the car industry, which still has a lot to answer for, above that of consumers and the health of the British people.

But the story isn't over yet.

The Commission and member state governments have clearly overstepped the mark with this deal, agreed behind closed doors by nationally-appointed experts. The legislation only allows for subsequent technical changes to be made, not wholesale reform of emission levels, democratically agreed between MEPs and national governments back in 2007.

The legal basis for the move is therefore highly dubious. The European Parliament will have the chance to scrutinise the proposals, and, based on what we've seen so far, will almost certainly reject them.

But amidst all the political wrangling, this debacle perfectly demonstrates why action has to be taken at a European level and why the UK will never be able to tackle air pollution if it goes it alone.

Leaving the fact that we import over a third of our air pollution from the continent to one side; nearly every European member state, with the notable exception of the Netherlands, has pushed for current standards to be watered down, with the likely outcome of thousands of innocent people across Europe losing their lives.

So instead of a race to the bottom, in which every country follows its own narrow interests, consistent rules are needed across all EU states, which allow them to compete on a level playing field while protecting the right of each citizen to breath in clean air.

Only the European Union can guarantee this.