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Brussels targets air pollution – NOT British lawns

September 30th, 2014

After last month’s media misrepresentation of EU rules designed to improve – not diminish – the suction performance of vacuum cleaners (see earlier blog), the latest (Now Brussels targets your lawnmower, Daily Mail) suggests “Brussels” is targeting lawnmowers.

It is true that the European Commission has put forward new emission reduction measures for combustion (petrol and diesel) engines used in non-road mobile machinery, which will only take affect if national Ministers and MEPS approve them.

But any idea that this is some kind of assault on British freedom to cut the lawn on a Sunday afternoon needs kicking into the long grass.

Lawn mowers are a small part of the overall picture. New engines for huge machinery like railway locomotives, excavators, cranes and combine harvesters, as well as smaller equipment, will also be covered by the proposed updates to existing EU rules (Directive 97/68/EC).

The result will be major cuts in toxic emissions, which can not only contribute to climate change but damage air quality – a very significant problem in the UK – in the short term. Those emissions include nitrogen oxide, hydro-carbons, carbon-monoxide and particulate matters (diesel soot). To put it bluntly, these chemicals can kill children.

Rules applying to cars and other road vehicles have already been updated to take account of greater scientific knowledge on the damage done by emissions and of advances in engine technology that allow cleaner cars.

It is therefore entirely logical to do the same for non-road mobile machinery – whose engines account for approximately 10% of nitrogen oxide emissions and 5% of diesel soot in the EU. This is about a third of the NOx emissions and around half of the amount of diesel soot emitted by road vehicles.

The proposed measures will only affect new petrol mowers – a small minority given the market is dominated by electric models – and will not ban those already in use.

Just as manufacturers themselves tried to make clear over the vacuum cleaner issue, only to be ignored by much of the media, industry is quite capable of adapting to the new rules to produce engines that work just as well, but without creating such high levels of pollution.

Again, like the vacuum cleaner measures, this is not an idea dreamed up by Brussels bureaucrats and imposed on hapless citizens and businesses. Member States and the European Parliament called for the new measures the Commission has brought forward and industry and user groups were extensively consulted, based on detailed scientific impact assessments.

The new measures will be introduced gradually (from January 2019 – 2021) to give manufacturers sufficient time to adapt.

European industry associations have also stressed the need for harmonised and aligned emissions standards at international level, particularly with US and Japan, in order to ensure predictable export conditions on worldwide markets and avoid distortive competition from low-cost imports of non-regulated equipment.

In fact, the modifications being proposed by the Commission will bring Europe’s manufacturers broadly into alignment with legislation already in force in the US.  In particular, with US rules regarding all types of pollutants from engines typically found in lawn mowers and other gardening machinery ie spark-ignited (ie gasoline) engines up to 56kW.

Where EU proposals are more stringent than their US counterparts, re particulate matter/diesel soot, this is because they take into account the most recent conclusive evidence of their impact on human health. The US is currently reviewing how best to revise their rules.

Air pollution in the UK has a significant impact on life expectancy.  In 2008, particulate air pollution was linked to an estimated 29,000 deaths with an annual cost to the economy of between £9-19bn. See: http://laqm.defra.gov.uk/documents/air_quality_note_v7a-(3).pdf

Many regions in the world (ie China and emerging economies) over time align with western standards. So the suggestion in the press that manufacturers from western economies might seek “more profitable markets” outside Europe is not realistic, even if it were true – which it obviously is not – that producers could ever afford to ignore a huge market like the EU.

Also, leading the way in technological developments will ensure Europe’s manufacturers are in a favourable position and ahead of competitors to enter and succeed in new markets.

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Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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