Ban on petrol car sales and a net-zero future




The Times, 14 February 2020:

Sir, The government proposal to bring forward the mandatory date for phasing out vehicles that rely on fossil fuels to 2032 is a welcome first step towards reducing air pollution and mitigating climate change (“Ban on sale of petrol cars could come in ten years”, Feb 13). Car manufacturers may protest at the time-scale, but that is unsurprising. They also objected to the introduction of unleaded petrol in the 1980s and to the introduction of catalytic converters, but both proceeded without any significant technical issues. In addition, there will be significant benefits to health: research estimates 64,000 premature deaths annually from air pollution in the UK, so the medical imperative is for an even earlier phase-out date. Turnover of the car fleet is about 7 per cent per annum, so it may take another 15 years after phase-out before the UK is close to carbon neutral road transport. And earlier date is therefore consistent with the government’s ambition to be zero-carbon by 2050. The government is also correct to include hybrid cars, which include a fossil-fuel engine. What is now needed from the government is co-ordinated investment in the infrastructure required for ultra-low emission vehicles.  Alongside this it will be critical to maintain the subsidy of £3,500 for electric vehicles which the government has threatened to reduce or even discontinue before the budget.

Geraint Davies MP,
Dr Robin Russell-Jones, scientific adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution;
Greg Archer, UK director, Transport & Environment;
Simon Birkett, Clean Air London chairman
Plus a further three signatories at

Fracking Flaws


The Times, 24 October 2019:

Sir, The National Audit Office should be congratulated for its timely report examining the financial and environmental costs of fracking (News, Oct 23). The rationale for developing yet another fossil fuel is based on the erroneous belief that gas is better than coal from a climate perspective. But this is only true if fugitive emissions of methane are ignored. The high global warming potential of methane (85 times greater than CO2 over 20 years) means that releases amounting to 2 per cent of production are sufficient to cancel out the benefits of burning gas instead of coal. Satellite measurements over shale fields in North America have indicated losses in excess of 5 per cent.

Even conventional gas production incurs losses of about 1.5 per cent. If that gas is then liquefied, which is itself a very energy intensive process, then gas still has no advantage over coal. The government should abandon its misguided support of fracking.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Help Rescue the Planet

Air pollution target


The Times, 18 October 2019:

Sir, The Queen’s Speech promised air quality targets that would be “among the most ambitious in the world”. Unfortunately we have not been told what those targets will be, or the date by which they will be implemented. The Clean Air Bill, published as a private member’s bill last week, includes a commitment to achieve WHO standards by 2030 at the latest.

The most dangerous type of air pollution is small particulates, and the annual WHO limit for PM2.5 is 10 microgrammes per cubic metre of air, which is significantly lower than the average level in central London of 15. The EU limit is 25; in the US it is 12 and in Australia 8.

The government needs to announce a phased reduction in the legal limit for PM2.5 that should stipulate 15 mcg/m3 for 2020, 12 mcg/m3 by 2025 and 10 mcg/m3 by 2030. This would provide the necessary incentive for the government and councils to promote public transport and reduce car usage, particularly in urban areas. In addition it would require the government to speed up the introduction of electric vehicles, and to bring forward the phase-out date for diesel and petrol-driven vehicles to 2030. This date would align with several other European countries, including Denmark and Sweden. Moreover, it would help the UK to meet its climate change commitments which, as things stand, are almost certain to be missed.

Geraint Davies MP,
Chairman, all party parliamentary group on air pollution;
Dr Robin Russell-Jones,
Scientific adviser, air pollution APPG


Climate change


The Times, 16 September 2019:

Sir, It is highly abnormal for bush fires to run out of control in springtime (“Drought-ravaged Australia braced for worst fires ever”, Sep 13). Last autumn temperatures in the Arctic reached 30C above the historic average, and this summer we have witnessed a new phenomenon: wildfires in the Arctic. Melting of the Greenland ice cap has reached 8,500 tonnes per second, four times faster than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Temperatures worldwide are rising faster than expected and may well reach 1.5C of warming by 2030 rather than the IPCC forecast of 2040.

Another new phenomenon is that these events are being widely reported by the media. The only thing that remains unaltered is the total lack of any meaningful response from our politicians. During Boris Johnson’s time as foreign secretary, British embassies lost 60 per cent of their climate attachés. The real danger of populist politicians is their ability to ignore existential threats to our survival.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chairman of Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks


Green Brexit


The Times, 16 August 2019:

You are right to question the weaknesses in the government’s proposal to establish an Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) after Brexit (“Green Brexit”, leading article, Aug 14). Climate change, for example, is specifically excluded from the remit of the OEP, as is indoor air pollution. As regards outdoor air quality, the UK has been in breach of EU air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide since 2010, and the government has suffered three defeats in the High Court over its failure to implement effective action. Having resisted legal judgments and failed to comply with EU air-quality standards for more than eight years, is it credible that the government would now seek to create an even more effective domestic system for scrutinising government policy?

It needs to be remembered that between 2003 and 2016, the EU Commission started 753 actions against the British government, of which 120 related to the environment. That equates to nine environmental actions every year. Most were settled, but 29 cases reached the European Court of Justice. In order to replicate this level of scrutiny at a domestic level, the OEP will need to be truly independent: it will need significant resources, as well as sufficient powers to investigate, gain access to relevant data, issue legally binding enforcement notices and monitor compliance. Ultimately it will need the power to take government ministers to court. It is not clear if any of these requirements will be met by the ill-defined proposals in the Draft Environment Bill that was updated last month.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones

Scientific advisor to the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution

Geraint Davies MP

Group chairman, House of Commons

Dirty air and babies


The Times, 15 March 2019:

Sir, One neglected aspect of air pollution is its effect on birth weight (“Air pollution kills more people than boasting about freezing the fuel smoking”, Mar 13). A meta-analysis of 32 studies linking birth outcomes with the level of small particulates (PM2.5) concluded that each increase of 10g/m3 in PM2.5 lowers birthweight by 16 grams. Living in central London while pregnant is thus equivalent to smoking one cigarette a day.

In 2017 researchers from King’s College London showed that reductions in birth weight were tied more closely to exhaust emissions than to other types of particulates generated by traffic (eg, wear and tear on brakes and tyres) and not at all to noise pollution. During the Olympic Sir, Alice Thomson (Comment, Mar Games in 2008, the Chinese government made every effort to reduce pollution levels in Beijing, and birth weight increased. The maximum benefit was for women in the eighth month of pregnancy, a period of maximum foetal growth.

Low birth weight is important because it is linked to a host of adverse outcomes in later life, including lower IQ. The British government could do far more to mitigate these effects. Instead of boasting about freezing the fue escalator for the past nine years, the chancellor should increase the tax on diesel, introduce a diesel scrappage scheme and bring forward the phase-out date for fossil fuel vehicles from 2040 to 2030.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, FRCP, FRCPath, scientific adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution

Geraint Davies, MP
chairman, APPG on air pollution

Climate change survival and energy policy


The Times, 30 July 2018:

Sir, Your leading article (July 28) proposes that technological ingenuity is the best approach to tackling climate change, so why are we not maximising the technologies that are already available?

Why is the government supporting new forms of fossil fuel extraction in the form of fracking, rather than promoting onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of energy available? Why has the government ditched plans for zero-carbon buildings and abandoned its competition to boost research into carbon capture? And why, last month, did it axe the tidal power project in Swansea and cancel the feed-in tariff review for solar power?
Dr Robin Russell-Jones

Chairman, Help Rescue the Planet

Air pollution tests


The Times, 22 November 2017:

Sir, It is disingenuous to argue against a tax on diesel fuel merely because some of the latest models have lower nitrogen oxide emissions than cheaper petrol-driven vehicles. The main threat to health from the combustion of fossil fuels is small particulates, and historically diesel vehicles have produced far more of these than petrol-driven engines. The purpose of a diesel tax is to limit the use of the most polluting vehicles, but we still need a new Clean Air Act whose aim should be the replacement of all fossil fuel-dependent vehicles with clean methods of transport. Furthermore, this needs to happen well before the government’s proposed starting date of 2040.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones

Former chairman, Campaign for Lead-Free Air

Science “censorship”


The Times, 26 April 2016:

Matt Ridley (“Climate change lobby wants to kill free speech”, Opinion, Apr 25) describes one form of censorship: here is another.  For 30 months now a small group of Fellows of the Royal Society, including me, have sought on several occasions formal meeting of the society to discuss downsides of the current unsophisticated mitigations of climate change that actually increase global carbon dioxide emissions in some cases.  The closure of UK aluminium smelters, and now maybe steel, compensated by imports from China, is pure folly.  In that period the Royal Society has found time for several more meetings on the downsides of climate change but our request keeps getting kicked down the road without any adequate explanation.

The collapse of many alternative energy companies worldwide was entirely predictable on basic scientific and engineering grounds, and the Royal Society is in dereliction of its duty to warn and advise governments, investors and the public of what it knew within its ranks.

Michael J. Kelly, FRS

Prince Philip Professor of Technology

University of Cambridge

Boris “has failed to tackle air pollution”

Times, 26 February 2016:

Absent from Jenni Russell’s list of Boris’ failures as Mayor of London is his indifference to the public health disaster posed by air pollution (Will the real Boris Johnson please stand up Feb 25)  The recent report by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Pediatric and Child health attributes 40,000 premature deaths annually in the UK to air pollution which in London is very largely the result of diesel emissions.

There is a lot that Boris could have done including the replacement of diesel engines in buses and taxis with LPG which reduces particulate emissions by 99 per cent. Or he could have extended the low emissions zone. Or he could have banned the most polluting taxis that fail Euro 5 standards. He did none of these things which is why Oxford Street has the highest levels of pollution in Europe — and why Boris is unfit for public office.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Former Chairman Campaign for Lead Free Air
Stoke Poges, Bucks