Why we shouldn’t lose clean air momentum

We have recently launched our 'Change the Weather' initiative, where we are urging news outlets to include air quality information with their weather forecasts. E.ON UK CEO Michael Lewis looks at why air pollution is such an important health concern, and how we can tackle it together. 

 

While 2020 has not been what we expected or wanted, there has been one positive development. During the first national lockdown earlier this year, air quality improved dramatically1 in some parts of the country and it gave us a taste for life with cleaner air. According to our recent research2, nearly two thirds (62%) of people in the UK miss that feeling.

There have been other events this year that made the environment a national talking point. Sir David Attenborough’s latest film, ‘A Life on Our Planet’, hit home with his essential message that we need to act now before we reach the point of no return. Extinction Rebellion conducted another parliamentary protest, in demand that MPs back their climate and ecological emergency bill. And activist Greta Thunberg continued to campaign for climate change awareness online and across social media, following her successful 2019 UN Youth Climate Summit speech.

Now is the time to build on this momentum. Heightened awareness must lead to increased action. 

The reality of air pollution

The World Health Organization says air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to human health worldwide3 and Public Health England shares that view on a domestic level4.

We know from studies that long-term exposure to air pollution reduces life expectancy, mainly due to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer5. Public Health England also highlights that even short-term exposure to elevated levels of air pollution can cause a range of health impacts including effects on lung function, exacerbation of asthma, increases in respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions and mortality6.

How can changing the weather help?

Our latest clean air initiative – ‘Change the Weather’ – urges media titles with weather forecasts to start including air quality information within them. The numbers already exist in the form of Defra’s Daily Air Quality Index7, but we’ve worked with weather data provider DTN to ensure that publications can access and publish them in as easy a way as possible.

We know many Brits are obsessed with the weather and we want to harness that interest to help tackle air pollution: our thinking is the more we absorb air quality information, the more we’ll think about the problem and the more we’ll take actions to help solve it.

We’re glad that many of the nation’s media are with us and we’re grateful to all the publications that have made the change so far. They include national newspapers such as the i, Evening Standard, Daily Star, Daily Record and The Scotsman, as well as regional and local titles including the Carlisle News & Star, the Yorkshire Evening News and the Dumfries Courier. And we hope many more will follow their lead.

What else are we doing?

In addition to raising awareness about air pollution and driving the conversation forward, we’re enabling our customers to take action to help clear the air themselves. We‘ve expanded our product offerings to make it achievable, and accessible, for everyone to make a difference.

At home, we support customers by installing solar panels, air source heat pumps and smart meters so they can improve their own energy efficiency and use less energy. We supply all residential customers’ homes with 100% renewable electricity at no extra cost8 – increased take-up of renewable electricity and energy means less use of traditional, fossil-fuel burning power stations, and resultantly, lower emissions and pollutants across the UK.  

At a city level, we’re 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 in the corporate space, 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.

There is more to be done and more to come. But, little-by-little, we can help clear the air together.

 

1. BBC News: Coronavirus lockdown sees air pollution plummet across UK
2. Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of E.ON October 2020 with a survey of 4063 respondents
3. World Health Organisation: https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en/
4.  Gov.uk: Public Health England publishes air pollution evidence review
5. World Health Organization: Ambient air pollution - a major threat to health and climate   
6. Gov.uk: Health matters: air pollution
7. The DEFRA Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI) tells you about levels of air pollution and provides recommended actions and health advice. For more information, go to http://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/
8. Electricity backed by 100% renewable sources. E.ON's renewable generation assets, agreements with UK wind generators and the purchase of renewable electricity certificates. The electricity supplied to your home comes from the National Grid and DNOs. eonenergy.com/renewable

Written by Michael Lewis

Michael joined E.ON UK as CEO in 2017, having worked in the energy industry for over 25 years. He joined Powergen in 1993, originally working in technical and environmental roles, before moving into corporate strategy and development. Following E.ON’s acquisition of Powergen in 2002, he moved to E.ON’s headquarters in Düsseldorf as Vice President Corporate Development. In 2007, Michael was appointed Managing Director for Europe on the Board of E.ON Climate and Renewables, before becoming Chief Operating Officer in 2012 and then CEO of E.ON Climate and Renewables in 2015. Michael is a Chartered Engineer (CEng) and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (FIMechE).