Carbon emissions from vehicles causing atmospheric pollution
The biggest source of pollution in the UK comes from road transportation. This comes in the form of air quality, congestion, noise disturbance and most importantly climate change. There are currently 35 million vehicles on the worlds roads, with 29 million being cars. By reducing the number of car journeys we make, or thinking of changing to a cleaner greener vehicle, are two of many steps we can take to have a positive impact on the environment.
Impacts of car pollution on climate change
Accounting for 23% of total UK emissions of CO2, road transportation is the number one focus. The European Union (EU) has negotiated very tight constraints with motor manufacturers to improve the manufacture of lower emission vehicles. Energy performance certificates (EPC) are displayed on all new cars in the UK, similar to how white goods ie washing machines are displayed by a retailer. They display how many grams of CO2 are emitted by the vehicle per mile. As more and more cars are on the roads, vehicle transportation will continue to be a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.
Hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other particles are all emitted from combustion engine vehicles. All of these chemicals affect the quality of the air we breathe and have a damaging impact on the health of animals, vegetation and importantly humans. Although we have seen some improvements in air quality in the UK, the most basic European targets are not met. In particular particles and nitrogen dioxide levels are extremely high. Quality varies depending on the area, in town centres and alongside busy roads pollution can be highest. Vehicles produce highest pollution levels at the start of journeys; however advances in efficiencies in combustion engines as well as improvements in the refinement of petrol and diesel are improving this. Low emission vehicles such as hybrids, hydrogen and electric cars are the only true way for us to effectively combat this rising problem.
Although we have grown up used to the noise created by traffic on roads, it is actually a significant pollution. The source of this noise is predominantly from the engine, but also time tyre noise, stereos, doors, brakes and car horns. EU legislation regulates guidelines for noise standards for the automotive industry. However with increasing levels of traffic on the roads, the problem of noise pollution will never be resolved. Again eco cars with much smaller engines and or electric motors tend to be significantly quieter than traditional combustion engine vehicles. Electric vehicles have had some criticism from a safety perspective, as pedestrians find it difficult to notice their presence. Some electric cars have been fitted with noise generators for use in urban areas.
Manufacturing and end of life cycle
Both the manufacture and disposal of vehicles can have a major impact on the environment. It is widely considered that around 85% of the environmental impact from CO2 emissions comes from the actual use of the vehicle. The other 15% comes from, 5% disposal of the car at the end of its life cycle, and 10% from the manufacturing process. A tight EU legislation regulates the standards automotive manufacturers are required to meet regard their environmental impact from manufacturing techniques. New vehicles such as the electric BMW i3 further reduce this impact by using recycled materials during the manufacture process.
Air Quality- What are the government doing.
In 2015 a High Court ruled that the UK government are guilty of not meeting EU quality guidelines. As a result the new government are required by law to make improvements. These improvements are set out targets for the improvement of air quality. This process is governed by the Air Quality Strategy. Four areas where targets will not be met, local authorities must declare an Air Quality Management Area, creating an action plan to improve and implement changes. Local authorities need to highlight air quality in all areas, follow this air quality link for the details. Road vehicles can officially be tested for their emissions by local authorities and officers can issue fixed penalty notices if requirements are not met. Furthermore the government has a large programme to support and encourage the uptake of low emission eco vehicles, such as electric and hybrid. These government incentives include a £5000 grant towards the purchase of some new cars, 75% towards domestic charging points for electric and plug-in cars. London congestion charge exemption and a number of company tax and road tax incentives.