Foreword from the CEO
Climate change and air pollution are two of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Fundamentally they are similar issues: our behaviour as humans is poisoning the planet upon which we live and depend.
Addressing the challenges of climate change has rightly been a major focus in recent years. There is an increasing awareness of the impact that a changing climate will have on the way we live our lives, not just in the UK but around the world. Like climate change, the deteriorating quality of our air is an issue we often can’t see, smell or taste, but something to which we all contribute.
These are global issues but ones where individuals and organisations can make a real difference – and I believe it is for our industry to make it possible for them do so. Because energy is at the heart of solving both problems – we need to change how we power our homes, businesses, communities and transport systems.
Industry and governments can help people and organisations to play their part, and we at E.ON are focused on what we can do to enable this, by finding and applying the energy solutions for customers that will help make the air cleaner.
Urgent action is needed. The World Health Organization has declared that air pollution poses the greatest environmental threat to global health in 20191 , a view supported by Public Health England, whose March 2019 review 2 cited air pollution as the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK.
The clean air crisis is a much bigger public health risk than smoking or drinking, which does not discriminate in terms of age or lifestyle. Towns and cities across the UK are exposed to levels of air pollution which breach the legal limit.3 There is also a clear correlation between income and access to clean air where our most deprived communities are often those that are most impacted by air pollution.4 The link between income and access to clean air means social justice is a core element of the policy solution.
The issues of combating climate change and promoting cleaner air are linked, as our reliance on fossil fuels to power our homes, our workplaces and our transport systems is one of the major drivers of air pollution.5
In our towns and cities road transport is a major contributing factor and, within that, diesel vehicles. Nearly 40% of all NOx emissions within London come from diesel vehicles.6 Without a fundamental shift in how we move people and goods it will be impossible to make our air cleaner and to reduce air pollution levels down to legal and healthier levels.
We welcome the UK Government’s Clean Air Strategy, just as we do Parliament’s historic decision earlier in the Summer to enshrine a 2050 net zero target into law. But this is only the starting point and much more action will need to be taken if we are to have a future where everyone has the right to unpolluted air.
Transforming the status quo means people changing how they live, work and move. In order to achieve significant change and make a real impact to cleaning the air, industries and governments need to come together on the way forward.
There will be tough choices and trade-offs. For example, there is little point switching to electric vehicles or heating systems if the extra power demand is met by fossil fuel sources. We must therefore finish decarbonising the electricity system to unlock the opportunity this can provide for improving local air quality. In addition, we must look to ensure we develop policies to support this transition which avoid imposing unacceptable price rises for consumers and businesses.
Air pollution – whether it’s caused by road transport, housing or manufacturing– does not respect political or institutional boundaries. This means solutions need to be delivered by policy and action at a national or even European scale. However, we can all make a difference through action at a city level, at a business level or even at an individual level.
E.ON is already taking steps to make it easier for domestic and business customers to make that difference – at home we support them with installing solar panels, batteries, heat pumps and electric vehicle charging facilities as well as helping them to improve their own energy efficiency, so they use less power. At a city level we are the UK leader in district heating schemes which provide a lower emission,more efficient supply of heating and hot water, often to entire communities.
And we’re working with our industry partners to make buildings smarter and more intuitive, to allow businesses to take control of their energy – producing it themselves and even taking an active part in helping to run the energy system more efficiently – as well as making charging an electric vehicle possible for everyone.
On the supply side we have committed to providing our customers’ homes with electricity backed 100% by renewable sources,7 helping to drive further investment in cleaner generation for the UK’s energy system.
However, there is much more that needs to be done to make the air cleaner. This will require a comprehensive approach across local, regional and national governments. At its heart must be a fair and just programme so everyone can take action. This will require additional public spending alongside regulations that help to address the worst polluting areas and to send clear signals to the market over the need for new innovative products.
E.ON UK Chief Executive