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Air Quality After Paris: Can Telematics Help?

Data Blocks
Data Blocks

The Trump administration ignited another impassioned debate recently when it took the decision to withdraw from the much-proclaimed Paris Agreement on climate change, which only came into effect last November. Considered the parting legacy of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, the agreement has so far been signed by 195 countries, 148 of which have officially ratified it. But with the United States now pulling out, its future looks precarious.

What makes this particularly damaging to the Paris Agreement is that the US is the world’s second largest polluter, emitting 5,172,338 kilotons of carbon dioxide in 2015. While China emitted almost twice as much in total, the US still had a higher rate of CO2 emissions per capita (16.1t as compared to 7.7t for China). Without the backing of the US, it’s therefore hard to see how any such accord as the Paris Agreement will drive the desired improvements.

This makes it all the more incumbent upon others – including private initiatives – to take action on the environment. Air quality, in particular, is becoming an ever more pressing issue. So can technologies such as telematics play an important role in curbing carbon emissions and improving the quality of the air we all breathe?

Air pollution: the scale of the problem

A 2014 report published by the World Health Organisation found that some seven million people had died prematurely as a result of air pollution in 2012. In total, the study observed, air pollution had accounted for one in eight global deaths that year. While these deaths tended to be concentrated in poorer countries, air quality is a concern across the world.

While the issue of CO2 output tends to attract the majority of headlines on climate change and the environment, initiatives like the Paris Agreement don’t just aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They also aspire to cut emissions of other harmful pollutants known to be damaging to health, including sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides.

However, upon signing the Paris Agreement, the previous US administration set itself the target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent of 2005 levels by 2025. Indeed, a variety of policies had already been put in place with the aim of cutting pollution in mind. These include incentives for renewable energy investment and improving fuel economy. Though the Trump administration says it will take its own steps to tackle climate change, it is unclear as yet what these might are, and how substantial their impact might be.

It isn’t just the US that needs to take action on air quality and pollution, of course. Air pollution is a problem that plagues practically all of the world’s major cities. Here in Britain earlier this year, London breached its annual air pollution limits within just five days of the new year starting. This represents, therefore, a major public health issue. The government published an 86-page air quality plan in May, which stopped short of advising local authorities to introduce charging zones in the towns and cities most prone to pollution.

‘Green telematics’ and environmental sustainability

Recent years have seen so-called ‘green telematics’ becoming increasingly mainstream. Fleet tracking systems have been enthusiastically adopted since the turn of the millennium and this process continues, with the global telematics sector expected to be valued at $13.5bn (£10.6bn) by this year.

Given the apparent political deadlock on the matter, the adoption of technologies such as telematics systems to help reduce the damage done to the environment is likely to be all the more important. Telematics can not only help to reduce emissions by enhancing fuel efficiency and allowing for the least wasteful deployment of resources, but also by enabling fleet operators to create bespoke driver training and development schemes aimed at encouraging better conduct on the road.

GPS telematics keeps fleet operators up to speed with where vehicles are and allows for real-time, dynamic route planning. Vehicles can be re-routed as and when they need to, minimising potential disruption and fuel wastage. Fleet telematics also provides managers with a wide variety of vehicle data, providing unprecedented insights into driver behaviour and flagging up a range of undesirable behaviours – such as harsh braking, rough cornering and aggressive acceleration. This therefore helps operators in their efforts to eliminate such conduct where it occurs. This sort of conduct wastes fuel, and so attempts to tackle it are also part of the effort to reduce carbon emissions.

Green telematics in action

Telematics systems have already been making a difference to curbing carbon emissions for a number of years. One interesting case study in this regard is the example of the Canal & River Trust, the charity responsible for managing navigable waterways in England and Wales. Working in partnership with Teletrac Navman, the Canal & River Trust introduced a fleet tracking system in 2013 as part of a wider programme of investment and improvements.

The introduction of this fleet telematics system delivered significant savings and led to a major improvement in efficiency – as well as cutting the organisation’s carbon footprint. Prior to this, Canal & River Trust vehicles were frequently being driven above the internal speed limit of 60mph. Since then, these incidents have been dramatically reduced.

What’s more, the Canal & River Trust’s fuel consumption and carbon output has also been cut sharply. Back in 2010, before the tracking system was installed, the charity’s fleet consumed in excess of one million litres of fuel per year. In 2016, that was estimated to have fallen to around 875,000 litres – despite the charity having added another 24 vehicles to its fleet since July 2013. This amounts to an annual financial saving of around £150,000. Meanwhile, its carbon footprint has been reduced by 206 tonnes, helping the Canal & River Trust earn Carbon Trust Accreditation for its environmental efforts.

Examples such as this demonstrate that telematics technology can potentially be highly beneficial to the environment. Governments should therefore lead by example, encouraging public sector fleets to adopt fleet tracking technology – which, as we’ve already noted, has the added benefit of delivering significant savings through enhanced efficiency. Telematics systems can be adopted easily and at relatively low cost. The introduction of technologies such as this is only likely to become ever more important in the years ahead.


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