Geraint Thomas

Geraint Davies (Jesus, 1978) MP for Swansea West

It's always pleasant to circumvent all the Parliamentary noise and come back to individuals, in this case the very amenable Right Honourable Member of Parliament for Swansea West, Geraint Davies (Labour).

I bumped into Geraint while attending the first National Air Quality Conference down in London’s Docklands, ostensibly to follow Oxford City Council’s survey of its impending Zero Emission Zone in the city centre.

But in some ways Geraint stole the show with the second version of his Private Member Clean Air Bill, the first version read a year ago on November 16, 2016. The freshly drafted bill had just been read in Parliament the day before our meeting, on November 22, 2017.

If you’re reading about this in the US, pity us Europeans, who must seem odd.

We pursued a 'dieselisation' strategy fuelled (pun intended!) by generous tax subsidies dating back nearly two decades, plus other regimes of vehicle taxation based broadly on CO2 emissions rather than other types of what Americans refer to as tail-pipe emissions, known to be harmful to human health.

Europe is almost unique in this strategy although India and South Korea also have significant fleets of non-commercial passenger cars.

The argument at the time was that diesel combustion technology emitted fewer green house gases. The unintended consequence has been a steady worsening of air quality with dramatic implications for public health.

According to a report by the UK’s College of Royal Physicians, roughly 40,000 people are believed to die prematurely from poor air every year in the UK alone, when you take account of fine particulates and also lung-affecting nitrogen dioxide and other oxides of nitrogen, and carbon monoxide, sulphur, and so on.

Out of hundreds of MPs, Geraint Davies has taken a leadership stance on this issue despite his constituency being situated many leagues away from the most notorious air blackspot, London. I asked him why.

Geraint replied that he noted a long time ago that poorer communities tend to be exposed to the worst air –say if they live in tower blocks situated very close to an arterial road, so that the matter becomes one of social justice and not just pollution, transport and public health.

‘I’ve introduced private members bills to help make a difference on Clean Air – to reduce the 40,000 early deaths and £20 billion cost of diesel pollution; on fracking, as the five per cent methane leakage makes it twice as bad as coal for global warming; and sugar, which should be labeled on products in teaspoonfuls so consumers can avoid added suger and help reduce the obesity and diabetes epidemic costing the NHS £12 billion a year.’

Specifically, Davies’ Clean Air Bill focuses on forcing the government to hurry up their actions to make the measurement of transport emissions reflect real driving scenarios rather than the widely discredited EU-sponsored NEDC text regime, which was largely gamed by car makers and as such produced false readings of emissions and fuel efficiency for most cars. He also wants to make tampering with pollution reduction devices on a car a serious criminal offence, and to toughen up enforcement of existing standards. Geraint's bill also encompasses other measures concerning maritime and aviation pollution, and insists that if Britain is to leave the European Union, that it strengthen rather than weaken its commitment to clean air by migrating towards tougher World Health Organisation guidelines.

He’s also very keen to see a serious ramping-up of alternative forms of transport, ranging from cycling and walking to electric trams, electric buses and taxis and a promotion of alternative fuels such as hydrogen, which works very successfully in buses. Section 10/4 ends with a simple statement: ‘This Act may be cited as the Clean Air Act 2017.’

Mai JarvisOf course, there were other voices in the room, and one of the sponsors of the day, Mercedes trucks, insisted that diesel would likely remain the main fuel for lorries for years to come. But the more progressive voices all seemed to belong to Oxford alumni responding intelligently to a problem acknowledged by everyone including the car makers. There was Mai Jarvis (pictured right; Teddy Hall, 2006), Environmental Quality Team Manager for Oxford City Council, to explain the city’s impending zero emissions zone plan.

Nick MoldenAnd then there was Nick Molden (pictured left; Christ Church, 1992), founder and CEO of Emissions Analytics, which has emerged as a leading consultancy testing vehicles for real world emissions as opposed to typically misleading laboratory testing.

Oxford has, of course, for the past century been jammed with cars – nothing new there. But it also suffers from particularly dank air owing to its ‘bowl’ geography. This has become more and more evident in recent years as rapid house price rises have forced key workers out of the city and into their cars, often for long daily commutes. It’s an obstinate problem with Oxford peculiarities, like so many others.

Pictures by University of Oxford/Richard Lofthouse, all from November 23, 2017, at the National Air Quality Conference held in London, UK. Listing image illustration by Domdomegg, published under a Wikimedia commons license. 

Dr Richard Lofthouse is the editor of Oxford Today.

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