Air Quality / Get involved! / sustainable city / videos

Let’s work together – collective action for cleaner air

World Water Council - collective action image web

Image: World Water Council

Everyone must shoulder the responsibility for achieving clean air – this was the key message from last week’s air quality workshop at the University of Southampton. Academics, council officers, industry representatives and campaigners came together to discuss solutions to the crisis of polluted air in our city. We need to develop a long-term vision, for both our city and the region, because national air quality plans and guidelines have failed to protect us from dirty air. Legal limits have been breached time and time again, and have had little effect on lowering emissions. Zero emission technologies and financial incentives certainly have a part to play, but ultimately the solution lies with each of us.

Going Dutch
Liz Batten, Clean Air Southampton, called for a long-term vision for tackling air pollution in the city. We need to look beyond the implementation of the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in 2019 and even local elections in 2018. How could Southampton become a more liveable city? To answer this question, the Clean Air Southampton team took some city councillors to the Netherlands to find out:

National Clean Air Day was a great success, but how do we get people thinking about air quality every day, not just once a year? As well as thinking long-term, what about Solent-wide? Are air quality targets included in development plans across the region? Liz also suggested using emergency planning as a means for dealing with air pollution episodes. In Southampton the monitoring network is not sophisticated enough to register Black Alerts such as those issued in London earlier this year.

Social change and citizen science
One of the criticisms of the Government’s updated Air Quality Plan is that it places the onus on local governments to clean up our air. Southampton City Council (SCC) certainly has a pivotal role to play but cannot achieve air quality goals on its own. Steve Guppy detailed many successes of the council’s air quality strategy – for example, £12M funding to deliver the Clean Air Zone (CAZ); unilateral support across the council; designs for a super cycle way – but also called on organisations and individuals across the city to work together to reduce air pollution.

There will be a consultation in Spring 2018 on the CAZ, which is no longer mandated to be a Class B zone. This means there is the option to also exclude private vehicles, but this is dependent on technical assessments. The map and matrix below show possible boundaries for the CAZ – city-wide, city centre and Western Approaches.  Please note: these are just some of the options which will be under consideration. Specific boundaries and classes have yet to shortlisted let alone assessed in detail.

Southampton CAZ - options - map

Image: Steve Guppy/Southampton City Council

CAZ matrix options

Image: Steve Guppy/Southampton City Council

James Dyke, University of Southampton, framed the issue of air pollution in terms of a collective action problem. One person switching from car to bicycle will make little difference, to not just air pollution, but cyclist safety. But if a large number participate in cycling then the situation can be transformed. The solutions to poor air quality in Southampton exist, what is lacking is a way to coordianate collective action across scales – individuals, families, communities, corporations and government. James is starting a joint academic and community project that will help coordinate this city-wide collective action and is very keen to make connections with people inside and outside the University.

early adopters graphs


In order to take collective action we need to arm ourselves with information. As the air quality monitoring stations in Southampton are few and far between, citizen science is the way to become informed about air pollution in your neighbourhood. Josh Taylor, Solent Air Watch has developed an affordable open-source air pollution monitor – called Sniffy – and is looking for people to host sensors. Josh believes in the power of public engagement and is keen to “build a dense air monitoring network across Southampton to create an air pollution map across the city and identify sources of pollution”.

Images: Josh Taylor/Solent Air Watch

Not worth the paper they’re written on?
Matt Loxham, University of Southampton asked the question: “Do air quality limits protect us?” and the answer was a resounding “no”. There are no safe limits for air pollution from different sources, be it particulate matter, nitrogen oxides or any of the other compounds or metals which are regulated for.

Table of EU US WHO AQ limits

Image: K Kuklinska/doi:10.5094/APR.2015.015

The WHO guidelines are the most stringent of these air quality guidelines but still recognise that complete protection is not possible for the whole population. However, the message is clear: if you reduce air pollution, you reduce the risk of death.

Ian Williams, University of Southampton followed up last year’s message – “there is no technological fix” – with the argument that regulation has failed us too. He detailed all the legislation, regulations, strategies and plans that have been put in place in the UK to tackle air pollution but none of it has had a significant effect. Fundamentally, we need to follow the lead of progressive societies, such as the Dutch, and change to a more sustainable lifestyle.

However, financial disincentives do offer a glimmer of hope. In 2008 the predicted health benefits of the London Congestion Charge were 183 years of life gained per 100,000 population within the charging zone, compared to 18 years among the remaining wards. In London overall, 1,888 years of life were gained.

No quick fixes with shipping
… And if you were looking for some easy solutions to emissions from shipping, don’t hold your breath. As Kathleen Goddard, Institute of Maritime Law, pointed out, it has taken 15 years to reduce the sulphur content of shipping fuel from 4.5% to 0.5%. She called for a return to slow steaming (reducing the speed of cargo ships and thereby reducing fuel consumption and emissions) and a greater investment in cold ironing (shoreside power). However, there are financial and political barriers to implementation. Nation states could impose slow steaming conditions on shipping companies but this would make them non-competitive. There is also an EU Directive on shoreside power for cruise ships but of course this is under the shadow of Brexit.

Christiana Ntouni, Lloyd’s Register, detailed the emission control areas for SO2 and NO2 which are due to come into force in the North Sea in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Sue Simmonite, ABP, stated that all sectors in the shipping industry are favouring the use of liquified natural gas as a future operating fuel but explained that cold ironing at Southampton Port would only be able to sustain one or two ships and there is a high cost associated with shore power infrastructure.

Two other speakers at the conference mentioned that the port’s contribution to air pollution in the city could actually be around 23% or even higher. With this in mind, can the projected growth outlined in the ABP draft Master Plan really be accommodated?

Kathleen suggested that we look West: California has its own emissions control area, and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have invested heavily in shoreside power and incentivise the use of slow steaming. And of course, the Dutch are developing their own solutions to a greener port at Rotterdam.

Issues, challenges and options
The group discussions after the talks threw up more questions than answers, for example:

  • What are the short, medium and long-term costs of action (or indeed inaction)?
  • How can we fund an integrated and effective public transport system?
  • How can we optimise transport across the city?
  • How does the issue of air quality fit within the Master Plans for the port, airport and motorways?

But a number of solutions were also proposed:

  • Recognition at all levels that air pollution is a problem
  • Regular meeting of stakeholders in Southampton
  • Having a champion to drive forward a sustainable Southampton
  • Changing working patterns to move away from the 9 to 5 and the associated congestion
  • Sharing knowledge with other cities and demonstrating leadership

A powerful concluding message of the workshop was that the right to clean air also comes with a responsiblity to protect it. While there is a great deal of work to be done to ensure we all breathe clean air, there are tremendously promising projects emerging that will help us achieve that vision.

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