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


Osborne and his pledge on malaria

Times, 26 January 2016 (text in bold not published):

It is hard to imagine a more surreal headline than “Osborne in £3bn vow to beat malaria”(Jan 25). Malaria may be on the retreat in some areas of the world, but it is also advancing into new territories as a result of climate change.

The Anopheles mosquito requires a minimum temperature to complete its breeding cycle, so in Kenya for example, cases of malaria are being recorded at higher altitude in previously unaffected, and non-immune populations. It is also spreading further North and there is no reason  to think that Europe will remain a malaria-free zone.

If he wants to refurbish his image, then the Chancellor should have picked a tropical disease that is not made worse by his hostility to renewables and his promotion of fracking.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire

Crime down

Times, 5 January 2015:

Ross Clark fails to recognise the evidence linking the removal of lead from petrol with the fall in violent crime (“Murders are down and we don’t know why”, Jan 3). Lead burden is most dangerous in utero and infancy, so high levels of exposure can be expected to manifest themselves in dysfunctional behaviour among teenagers and young adults 20 years later. In the US, lead was removed from petrol in the late Seventies and violent crime fell dramatically in the Nineties. In the UK lead was removed between 1985 and 1995 and we are seeing the benefits two decades later.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones FRCP FRCPath
Former chairman, Campaign for Lead Free Air

Fracking tactics

The Times, 24 Oct 2014:

The tactics being used by fracking companies  are identical to those previously employed by the tobacco industry (Ex-environment boss in fracking study Oct 22) It is entirely predictable that Cuadrilla and other shale gas companies would employ Chris Smith and even an ex-director of Greenpeace in order to lend credibility to studies that are funded by the industry itself, but none of this alters the fact that fracking is about producing fossil fuels which pose as great a threat to the environment as smoking does to public health. Last year the leading medical journals in the UK followed the lead of their US counterparts in refusing to publish any more medical papers that had been funded by the tobacco industry. It is only a matter of time before the same principle is applied to the fossil fuel industry.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

There is no link to the original article as it is behind a paywall.

Shale Gas

The Times, 23 September 2013:
Your claim that shale gas is better for the environment than coal does not stack up (Frack Baby Frack July 20) as shale gas (methane) is a potent greenhouse gas, twenty times more powerful than CO2 over a 100 year time frame. Whilst  burning gas releases less CO2 per unit of energy than coal, this benefit is negated by releases of methane during the fracking process. Calculations published by Professor Tom Wigley in the journal  Climatic Change in 2011 show that unless fugitive emissions  of methane are kept below 2%, then shale gas is no better than coal from a global warming perspective. In the US fugitive emissions have been running at around 7%, and the fossil fuel industry has been strenuously resisting methane control legislation proposed by the EPA. This explains why shale gas in the US is cheap, but also means that America’s new energy mix is making climate change worse not better.
There is no link to the original article as it is behind a paywall.