Not sure what Clean Air Net Zero (CANZ) means? No problem

Jason Torrance, Interim Chief Executive of UK100, lays out the key opportunities for councils to combat air pollution.

white clouds on blue sky

Ahead of Clean Air Day last June, UK100 introduced the concept of Clean Air Net Zero (CANZ) in our ‘Yes We CANZ!’ report.

Today, we are launching a follow-up report, ‘What CANZ be done?’

While embracing the same flair for bad wordplay, our new report builds on the concept of CANZ by focusing on the work local leaders in Birmingham, Camden, Hertfordshire, Leeds and Nottingham are already doing to align climate and clean air policies.

But where did CANZ come from?

Beyond bad puns

Our first report argued any solution to the UK’s air pollution public health crisis must acknowledge that action on air quality and the climate crisis are inexorably linked.

For the best example of the link between climate action and air pollution, let us cast our minds back a decade to 2013 when experts at West Virginia University were on the cusp of discovering one of the biggest corporate scandals of modern times; Dieselgate.

Our love affair with diesel began in the late 1990s when countries across Europe heavily promoted diesel vehicles as a ‘climate-friendly option’ owing to improved fuel efficiency and reduced carbon emissions.

Policymakers, it turned out, had given too little consideration to the toxic NOx emissions associated with diesel combustion. And they certainly had not anticipated the extent to which certain car manufacturers would go to ‘cheat’ the emissions tests that did exist.

black vehicle

The ‘dieselgate’ scandal is one of the most deadly examples of the toxic air impacts of separating clean air and climate policies, but it is far from being the only one.

CANZ is about learning from these mistakes. And ‘What CANZ be done?’ is about showcasing the local authorities doing just that, shining a light on the local leaders at the forefront of aligning clean air and climate policies.

Win-win CANZ opportunities

But that is not to say that we do not see the same opportunities for action across towns and cities all over the UK. In fact, in Yes We CANZ!, we identified four key ‘win-win’ actions that local leaders across the country can adopt to align and advance both agendas.

Win-win 1: Transport modal shift

Here, ‘modal shift’ is a synonym for ‘sustainable transport planning’ or encouraging more people out of their cars by promoting and improving public transport while investing in infrastructure to boost walking and cycling.

It is a win-win because reducing the number of vehicles on our roads slashes carbon emissions and primary air pollutants.

And as ‘What CANZ be done?’ demonstrates, we are already seeing Birmingham City Council take the lead on this approach with its ambitious Transport Plan. Driven by the need to reduce carbon emissions, the plan also seeks to reduce health inequalities while putting air quality front and centre of policy making.

Win-win 2: Energy efficiency and clean heating and cooking

While the air pollution impacts of road vehicles is firmly on the agenda, the toxic air impacts of gas cookers and boilers make fewer headlines. Yet gas-powered heating and cooking is a growing concern as effective action against road emissions increasingly exposes it as a significant and stubborn source of toxic air.

Meanwhile, fossil-fuelled heating and cooking in our homes account for more than 14% of UK carbon emissions.

Therefore, accelerating measures to cut heating demand through insulation and energy efficiency alongside switching to clean heating systems would deliver significant progress towards Net Zero and improve air quality — while reducing fuel poverty and creating green jobs.

In the London Borough of Camden the air quality and climate teams are actively working together to deliver on the council’s commitment to ensuring new buildings do not add to carbon emissions or air pollution. They are also working on improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

The council also aims to integrate air quality information within the affordable warmth advice services and provide guidance to residents on health and air quality and simple actions to reduce exposure.

Win-win 3: Promoting sustainable farming

Ammonia in farming contributes to both greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollution. Agriculture accounts for at least 10% of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Europe-wide studies have also shown farming to be responsible for over 40% of the most dangerous air pollutants.

Local authorities, therefore, should work to encourage agricultural transition and adopt sustainable food procurement policies like Gloucestershire County Council is doing with its Gloucestershire Regenerative Environment and Agriculture Transition (GREAT) Project.

In partnership with Gloucestershire Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and other local stakeholders, the project is working to accelerate the transition to more sustainable and regenerative farming practices in the county by providing advice and financial support to local farmers.

Win-win 4: Transparency

The final win-win opportunity is about local authorities empowering local communities with better data on air quality to help them make personal choices to avoid the negative impacts of air pollution.

For example, Leeds City Council has launched a Clean Air Leeds website with transparent access to air pollution data, tips for residents, and targeted awareness-raising at medical professionals.

Better data on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions can also boost community awareness and build support for CANZ actions while supporting communities to hold local and regional leaders to account.

Time for Ministers to take note

By Clean Air Day 2023, we want to see CANZ mainstreamed. But to get there we need the Government to step up support to unleash the clean air and Net Zero ambitions of local authorities across the country.

Instead, this month, when asked by Shadow Minister Stephen Morgan MP, the Defra Minister Rebecca Pow MP flat refused to even engage with the recommendations set out by our first “Yes We CANZ!” report.

We hope the government will reconsider its position, though. And that is why we are sending our latest report directly to the Defra Secretary of State Therese Coffey — with a request to meet some of the local leaders who are driving forward action while the UK Government drags its feet.

This article first appeared in the 2023 Transport Special issue of Air Quality News. You can read the full magazine below. 

Images: Top – Engin Akyurt / Middle – Matt Boitor / Bottom – Magnascan


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