• Countries must do their homework on tackling air pollution

    Editorial by Kerstin Meyer The news that only 11 of the 27 EU member states will meet their air pollution ceilings for 2010 should surprise no-one.

    The others blame the fact that demand for road transport has grown faster than anticipated, but this is only part of the truth. The other part is that they have not done their homework.

    For a start, real-life pollution from freight traffic has been higher than member states predicted, but has it really been higher than they could have expected? Before 2001, when the directive was negotiated, governments assumed that lorries would, over the following few years, pollute less than they actually have; the hope was that the introduction of new air pollution requirements would considerably bring down emissions of nitrogen oxides.

    A major reason why such hopes have been unfulfilled is the discrepancy between the way lorry emissions are measured in the laboratory and what lorries actually emit when on the road. Because the ‘test cycle’ doesn’t reflect real driving conditions, and because lorries can be tuned so they perform best under test conditions, lorry makers could get away with their vehicles belching out much more pollution in practice than they do on paper.

    However, this problem was already known by 2002 at the latest. So if countries had been serious about meeting their pollution targets, they would have allowed for this discrepancy and taken additional measures. Instead they complain about an ‘unexpected’ rise in real-life pollution!

    Yet there’s a more damning problem.
    All EU members are obliged to prepare so-called ‘national programmes’ outlining the measures they plan to adopt to meet their targets, but the way most of them have done this has been quite chaotic. One of the most surprising things you notice when reading these plans is that most countries fail to calculate the effect of their pollution reduction measures.

    Yes, you read that right. It means that, more likely than not, your government has been planning a host of policies without ever calculating whether they would be effective or not. This means that – by definition – they will have no idea whether they will meet their mandatory targets. It also means that if you have a list of measures to choose from, the ones that get chosen are those that cost the least or are politically easiest to adopt. This is how you end up with high-sounding but often ineffective measures such as ‘Changing consumers’ behaviour through providing better information’.

    Countries need to be much more serious about their approach, and adopt measures that, with realistic assumptions, are likely to achieve their pollution reduction targets, instead of claiming they have been thwarted by factors that could easily have been anticipated.