Air Quality News in 2022: The year’s top stories

Emily Whitehouse guides you through the most significant articles our staff and contributors have produced this year.

2022 has been filled with huge challenges, at home and overseas. From the cost-of-living crisis to the war in Ukraine, the year has offered relentless examples of how difficult it is to recover from a global economic shutdown while battling an environmental crisis and adjusting to the impact of conflict with implications for countries far beyond the fighting.


Despite so many distractions, air pollution has remained at the forefront of our minds, with the issue continuing to rise up the public and political agenda, proving that just because emissions seem to dissipate into the atmosphere, they rarely actually disappear. As such we can never dismiss or forget about the problem. With that in mind, we have been working as hard as ever to draw people’s attention to the fundamental issue of air quality, and associated problems – from increased demand for central heating alternatives, to the latest health related research.

Online Searches for wood-burning stoves have skyrocketed since 2020
By Pippa Neill

person holding stick with fire

(C) Clay Banks

Despite data from the UK government showing that wood burning in homes produces more particle pollution than road traffic, Air Quality News kicked off this year writing about how people were more interested in purchasing a wood burning stove than in the dangers of owning one, as the cost-of-living crisis began to bite.

Research conducted by MediaVision indicated that many households were looking at wood burning to heat their homes due to increases in energy bills. Similarly, searches for other alternative ways to keep the house warm were also found to be on the rise, with solar panels and draft excluders seeing particularly significant increases in Google queries (respectively 27% and 29%).

Louis Venter, CEO at MediaVision, said: ‘Despite the potential pollution issues, we saw a big increase in search volumes this year. This could be a result of increasing energy bills, or the possibility of more major electricity shortages. Either way, many people may be going old school with heating options. While green energy is important to us, we’d still rather be warm.’

Bad atmosphere: Inside Greater Manchester’s Chaotic Clean Air Zone
By Martin Guttridge-Hewitt

aerial photography of concrete buildings at daytime

(C) William McCue

Pulling away from the energy crisis, spring 2022 saw Greater Manchester’s Clean Air Zone stall, despite the region needing to bring particulate and nitrogen dioxide pollution back below legal limits by 2024.

Martin Guttridge-Hewitt’s investigation showed that key stakeholders in the region, including businesses and residents, were still unclear as to how much investment needs to go into tackling air quality. The original proposed plan would have seen Manchester charging drivers £60 for vehicles that breached emissions standards, covering the entire city-region.

Subsequently placed under review following widespread opposition, concerns included low levels of financial support, with just £120m allocated for vehicle upgrades and retrofits, and low availability of cleaner – and therefore exempt – commercial vehicles.

Firms outside the metropolitan county would not have been eligible for grants, which was another major issue. Eventually deemed ‘completely unworkable’ by central government, Manchester’s combined authority was accused of failing to offer a realistic support package. Months after this feature was written the situation still hangs in the balance.

Air Pollution Litigation and the Problem of Causation
By Dan Scott and Harry Little

woman holding sword statue during daytime

(C) Tingey Injury Law Firm

Governments around the world are being taken to court for environmental and pollution failings, with Germany, and regional authorities in Belgium, the latest to be sued over toxic air pollution.

Lawyers Dan Scott and Harry Little contributed an article to Air Quality News on climate change litigation and the need for causation guidelines to tighten, explaining most cases result in a not-guilty verdict due to difficulties in accurately pinpointing who and what is responsible for the pollution.

The question of whether polluting activities can be characterised as a breach of legal duty also remains unclear. The main activities that lead to poor air quality include driving and heating homes, both undertaken by the public as part of their daily routine. Thus, it becomes difficult to show that a specific private body is contributing to pollution levels, although Scott and Little are optimistic this is set to change in the coming years.

Will war in Ukraine lead to a quicker transition to renewable energy?
By Georgie Hughes

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been the year’s most devastating story, impacting the lives of millions both in that Country, and across the globe. Tens of thousands have died, the energy crisis has spiralled, and several nations not directly involved in the conflict have been pushed to the brink of famine due to the impact on crop and food supply chains.

The situation has also led to a race for energy independence, with the EU hoping to achieve this by 2030, while the UK announced in March plans to completely phase out imports of Russian oil by the end of this year. Suffice to say, increased investment in renewables is vital for these plans to work.

The National Energy Agency released a report which outlined how global oil demand could be reduced by 2.7 million barrels a day if countries switched to other energy sources. Stuart Dossett, Policy Advisor at think thank and charity the Green Alliance, has said switching to more sustainable forms, such as solar, should always be a ‘no regret option’.

However, through her examination of whether the war could catalyse a quicker transition to renewable energy, Georgie Hughes found some authorities were reluctant to make the switch.

At a time when funds are difficult to come by, MP’s such as Sarah Atherton from Wrexham Council suggest the government should forget Net Zero ambitions and instead just focus on energy independence. But, with increasing evidence renewables are now a cheaper option compared with fossil fuels, the future of our power should no longer be up for discussion.

‘More support needed’: Why the UK’s EV charger rollout is stalling
By Georgie Hughes

white and blue plastic tool


Neil Clarke, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment spoke with Air Quality News about how Nottinghamshire were driving the installation of EV charge points to help reduce CO2 emissions.

Nottinghamshire has managed to install just 23 accessible EV chargers over the year, despite the government’s plan to have 300,000 placed around the UK by 2030. When asked about installing chargers, Clarke was uncertain how the process worked until he spoke to the officer responsible, displaying the lack of communication governments have had with certain councils about the process.

Within her investigation, Georgie Hughes referenced reports that had been completed by local authorities which have highlighted a mere 14% of councils have the funding required to install chargers. Locations in the UK that have chargers installed also may not be viewed as essential – Westminster has 1,500 dotted around the area.

Since concerns rose regarding electric charge points, it’s thought Jeremy Hunt’s decision to tax electric car drivers could cause people to divert from investing in the vehicles. From April 2025 drivers will be expected to pay up to £165.

The View from Pakistan
By Ian Packham

(C) Ian Packham

Air Quality News correspondent, Ian Packham, has been exploring Pakistan in the wake of this year’s devastating floods, reporting from the frontline of the environmental crisis.

In June, the floods, which were caused by heavier-than-usual monsoon rains and melting glaciers that came after a severe heatwave, were reported to have killed almost 2000 people. The annual monsoon that occurs in Pakistan is essential for replenishing lakes and irrigating crops, however this year’s disaster affected over 30 million people, according to the government.

As well as taking people’s lives, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported more than 800 health facilities were damaged in the country, 180 of which were destroyed, leaving millions without access to healthcare.

Packham was due to travel to Pakistan before Covid-19 hit, but the global pandemic delayed his plans. Sadly, given the catastrophe that unfolded, his trip couldn’t be timelier to produce compelling, in-depth features that lay bare the genuine impact of the climate emergency. Beginning in the Karakorum Mountains, this series saw him cross the country from north to south.

The Big Interview: Hugh Helferty, Producer Accountability for Carbon Emissions
By Martin Guttridge-Hewitt

Moving into the final few months of 2022, Hugh Helferty, a leading energy scientist, sat down with Air Quality News to discuss the need for oil and gas companies to take responsibility for capturing and storing their own emissions. Helferty spent decades working for fossil fuel giant Exxon-Mobil, so there are few people better qualified to assess how realistic this proposal is.

During the interview, the leading expert spoke at length about his unique blueprint aimed at helping the world reach net zero, and the group he co-founded – Producer Accountability for Carbon Emissions (PACE). Comprising former-oil executives and energy specialists, the idea is relatively simple: a pay-as-you-go style system, in which energy giants are legally required to sequester every tonne of CO2 they are responsible for.

Transboundary problems need transboundary solutions: Defra’s Air Quality Minister on borderless policy
By Trudy Harrison

Rounding out the year, Air Quality News gave a platform to the UK’s new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to outline recent developments in international air quality policy.

MP Trudy Harrison explained that tackling air pollution is no longer a solo issue, much like the climate crisis, as pollution spreads beyond borders and has little regard for lines on the map.

This means countries must work together to tackle the problem. Harrison outlined the aims of a new International Forum for Air Pollution, a transboundary group working towards multilateral solutions to the crisis, co-chaired by the UK and Sweden, which met for the first time this year.


This article first appeared in the December issue of Air Quality News. You can read the full magazine below. 


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