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Driving forward air standards with data

Tue 21 Jul 2020 | Richard Baker

It’s time to create a better, cleaner and more data-driven future for ourselves and the planet

Recently, the Committee on Climate Change published its annual Progress Report to Parliament, providing new advice to the Government in reducing UK emissions. It assessed the Government’s climate change mitigation activity and outlined measures to accelerate the transition to achieving Net Zero by 2050.

There have been ambitious policies introduced in an effort to reach the Net Zero target but they have not been as forthcoming as we have hoped. In fact, in 2019 the UK reduced its emissions by 3-4 percent but this rate of reduction is simply not high enough to meet our climate goals.

A glimpse into the future?

The last few months have provided a glimpse into what a cleaner future could look like. The global lockdown sparked by Coronavirus meant that daily emissions of greenhouse gas plunged 17 percent by early April compared with 2019 levels, according to analysis from Nature Climate Change. In the UK, the decline was even higher, standing at 31 percent. Yet, as the UK has eased out of lockdown measures, pollution levels have started to rise once again.

Given most of the fall and subsequent rebound in carbon emissions has come from road transport, we must be vigilant in our efforts to encourage the public to change their lifestyles. Yet that alone is not enough. It is difficult to reduce emissions simply by expecting changes in the public’s everyday behaviour, instead we must also drive up air standards and reduce our carbon footprint by utilising the full range of technology at our disposal. Only then can we make that glimpse more permanent.

Smart city technology to alleviate emissions

Ahead of the 2050 target, the priority for cities in the next few years will be reducing air pollution levels and emissions. This was already a major concern prior to lockdown – with nine in ten people breathing polluted air resulting in seven million deaths every year, according to the World Health Organisation. As city populations and traffic volumes boom once again, the role of smart technology in tackling pollution will be crucial.

Enabling people to move through cities safely and sustainably demands a more nuanced and delicate approach. A highly connected smart city infrastructure represents a major opportunity for achieving this change. Extensively embedded IoT sensors can gather a wider variety of data – from real-time traffic information and detailed vehicle emissions to temperature and wind direction. Fusing data from various sources can reveal new insights that can be used to make informed decisions designed to reduce air pollution levels and reach our net-zero target.

For example, this insight can be used to develop new pricing models for road tax and congestion charges.  In the next couple of years, cities like Singapore will develop electronic road pricing tariffs that vary depending on occupancy, time of day, duration of journey, distance travelled, vehicle and fuel type – combustion vs. electric. Sensor infrastructure and data analytics will be at the heart of this new commercial model. UK cities need to catch up and quickly invest in similar smart city technologies to succeed in promoting sustainability and needs-based decision making for citizens.

Environmental protection through data prediction

If the current situation has taught us anything, it is that we need to make decisions that will benefit us, not just for the here and now, but for the unforeseeable future. Forecasting trends based on the data available to us can help us to interpret behaviours and strategize to alleviate air pollution levels accordingly. This can make it possible to manage any future increases in air pollution effectively.

The government must look to invest in data, to understand activity and trends in different industries. Only then can we make informed, real-time decisions and ensure the national goal of net zero is achieved.

Bringing geospatial data to life can provide valuable perspectives for governments to meet the needs of the population returning to normality. The sooner we can create a platform able to ingest the vast amounts of data, the sooner policy makers can act decisively to improve the quality of our lives and environment. This kind of data-driven decision making, along with real-time monitoring and management of physical world systems, is critical when it comes to improving real-world outcomes.

As we navigate a path back to normality, we cannot go backwards environmentally. We must use this situation as motivation to utilise all the data at our disposal to drive up standards. We can have a better, cleaner and more data-driven future for ourselves and the planet.

Experts featured:

Richard Baker



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