EU vehicle emission regulations ‘flawed’

King’s College environmental science professor says that EU vehicle emissions regulations have not done enough to improve air quality, writes Michael Holder


EU diesel vehicle emission standards have “failed” during the past two decades, according to an environmental science professor.

The standards, starting with the introduction of Euro 1 in 1992 and most recently the Euro 5 in 2009, have gradually placed higher limits on emissions from diesel vehicles.

But Professor Martin Williams, from the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London, said that EU standards had not done enough to reduce levels of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions from vehicles.

A King’s College environmental science Professor said EU diesel emissions regulations have “failed”.

Speaking at the Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM)’s Dispersal Model Users Group (DMUG) conference on Wednesday (5 December), Professor Williams’ said: “In the last 20 years, vehicle emissions regulation in the EU has failed — it has been shown to be flawed.”

While discussing diesel emissions in his speech, he said: “There has been a failure of EU standards for diesel cars… Diesel car use has increased as has the power of diesels.”

However, he added: “There is a group in Brussels looking at better ways of dealing with this (diesel emissions) so it could improve.”

His comments come less than a week after an EC official said the new Euro 6 Standards and state-of-the-art filters for diesel cars coming into force in 2014 would help local authorities meet air quality limits (see story).

Also speaking at the conference was Tim Murrells from energy and environment consultants Ricardo-AEA, who said: “There hasn’t been a decline in NOx (nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide) emissions from diesel cars.”

He added: “We have no idea how Euro 6 is going to perform — only time will tell.”

Legal impact of DPFs

The Euro 6 Standard will require diesel vehicles to have diesel particulate filters (DPFs) or other emissions limiting equipment fitted in order to limit nitric oxide and particulate matter emissions to meet EU limits.

Professor Williams also spoke about the problem of DPFs and their possible legal impact on vehicles passing MOTs in the UK.

“Diesel particulate filters (DPFs) are an issue — there are questions about the legality of them and this is a potential problem. I am not sure if cars will be able to pass MOTs (without DPFs) and so forth — that is a matter for lawyers to argue.”

Currently, diesel cars have to pass an emission test as part of an MOT to make sure limits are not being breached. DPFs are not required to pass an MOT and it is not currently illegal to have them removed as long as emissions do not breach acceptable limits.

Many types of diesel vehicles have already had DPFs fitted following the Euro 5 Standard coming into force in 2009. However, with the emissions limits due to tighten further when Euro 6 comes into force in 2014, enhanced DPFs and similar technology will be needed in order to keep diesel emissions within EU limits.

Local Authorities

Professor Williams also said that local authorities lacked the power and understanding to cut emissions in Air Quality Management Areas across the UK.

Local authorities establish AQMAs in specific places where air quality readings are not meeting national standards. The local authority then puts together an Air Quality Management Action Plan to improve the air quality in that area.

Professor Williams said: “Many Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) have declared little improvement in air quality. This is may be not surprising as local authority influence is limited — what can they meaningfully do?

“A lot of the lack of action at local level is because of the lack of understanding of the problem.”

He added: “Many, or perhaps even most, AQMAs are so small and cover tiny areas — a holistic management approach would be better.”


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