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Measurement for our planet

Following COP26, discover how NPL plays a key role in enabling climate action through the delivery of accurate, reliable data that supports decision making and enables low carbon innovation.

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NPL welcomes the Environment Act

Alex Mindell, Energy and Environment Researcher at NPL, discusses the newly passed ‘Environment Act’, the role of measurement and how this will affect climate adaptation in the UK.

The Environment Act 2021 was given Royal Assent on Tuesday 9th November 2021, which the UK Government state will ‘transform our environmental governance… by putting environmental principles into law’. NPL welcomes the passing of this Act, particularly during the UK Presidency of COP26, and recognises that achieving the ambitions of the Act will require accuracy, traceability, consistency and confidence in our approach to climate action.  

The Environment Act puts into law the principles set out in the UK Government’s ‘25 Year Environment Plan’ to “safeguard the environment for this generation and many more to come”. NPL, as a public sector research establishment, have been supporting government with these ambitions and our ‘Measurement for Our Planet’ COP26 campaign shines a light on some of the ways we’re delivering solutions to drive adaptation and resilience to climate change and deliver an improved natural environment.   

Key provisions in the Act include establishing the UK’s first legally binding nature targets; the creation of a new watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection; increasing local powers to tackle sources of air pollution; enforcing a duty for water companies to progressively reduce raw sewage discharges from storm overflows; and forthcoming bans on selected single-use plastic items.  

Achieving these provisions will require coordinated action, support for research and development, and robust environmental monitoring. In fact, the Environment Act puts a legal onus on the creation of a cycle of environmental monitoring and reporting to ensure delivery of legally binding targets. Metrology (the science of measurement) will be a key part of this and as the UK's National Metrology Institute, NPL has a responsibility to tackle priority measurement needs and challenges in support of these targets.  

One such area of environmental monitoring where measurement expertise can add value is around air quality. This is an area of focus for the Act, with a specific target to reduce the annual average level of PM2.5 (particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter not exceeding 2.5 micrometres) in ambient air. NPL is already a key player within the UK’s air quality monitoring system and through our designated Air Quality and Aerosol Metrology group, we provide the metrology infrastructure to deliver and assure the UK’s quality measurements for gas and particles, and traceability for aerosol science. We work to transform future monitoring and supporting UK environmental and health legislation. You can find out more about our collaborations with Defra and the Environment Agency on air quality, along with our wider environmental monitoring capabilities here

Another major area of focus in the Act is on habitats, land drainage and protection for ancient woodlands. Legislation surrounding land use and land use change must be supported by robust earth observation (EO) via satellites and ground-based observations, to ensure that changes in the Earth’s climate and environmental systems are being accurately measured. NPL is driving this area forward by offering pre-flight calibration and validation for EO instruments, alongside the provision of quality assurance frameworks including quality control for data sets. The UK-led, NPL conceived TRUTHS mission – the new look of which was unveiled as part of Earth Information Day (3rd November 2021) at COP26 – aims to reduce uncertainty in the Earth observing data and as such will build further confidence in climate action. You can find out more about our EO work here.  

As part of NPL’s continued involvement in the environment area, we will be running a series of workshops in the new year looking at how metrology can support environmental protection including climate adaptation and resilience, and exploring measurement needs for indoor and ambient air quality. We will also be launching a new series of environmental reports in 2022 to complement our well established ‘Energy Transition’ reports, which investigate and prioritise how measurement can support some of the key enabling solutions on the path to ‘net zero’ such as hydrogen, batteries and carbon capture, usage and storage. If you would like to find out more about the workshops we will be running, or the new environmental report series launching in 2022, please get in contact with Alex Mindell (alex.mindell@npl.co.uk) and Emma Richardson (emma.richardson@npl.co.uk).  

We look forward to working with government and industry stakeholders to deliver on the legislative requirements of the newly passed ‘Environment Act’, by continuing to provide the metrology expertise required to underpin science-led climate action and exploring new ways of utilising our measurement capabilities in support of environmental policy.  

12 Nov 2021