Britain urged to improve air quality efforts ‘whatever the outcome of Brexit’

The UK Government is once again being urged to ramp up efforts to deal with the "deadly issue" of air pollution, this time as new reports suggest that "watered-down" proposals agreed by European Union (EU) Member States could lead to nearly 10,000 additional deaths across the continent.

Environmental charity Friends of the Earth (FoE) has criticised the role of national Governments for failing to strike a better deal on the National Emissions Ceiling Directive last week.

Despite efforts by the European Commission and the European Parliament to call for a 52% cut in mortality from air pollution by 2030, the figure was scaled down to a 49.6% reduction by Member States, including the UK.

FoE believes continued co-operation between national Governments is essential to reduce air pollution limits to those recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The green charity is also urging the UK to maintain and uphold EU protections on air pollution, regardless of the Brexit outcome which could have a significant impact on UK air quality regulations.

FotE air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said: “The targets on tightening air pollution are welcome but should, and could, have been stronger. Nearly 10,000 more people will die early across Europe because of this weak-willed watering down of proposals.

“This is a public health crisis. The UK Government, local authorities and our city mayors must do far more to make the air we breathe safer.

“Air pollution doesn’t respect national borders. We need firm commitments from Government that, whatever the outcome of Brexit, we will continue to work with our European neighbours to deal with this deadly issue.”

‘Once in a lifetime’

Meanwhile, new research conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Clean Air Alliance has demonstrated widespread domestic concern about air pollution and support for the introduction of Clean Air Zones to help address an issue which is allegedly ‘claiming tens of thousands of UK lives a year’.

Almost 1000 people were interviewed Birmingham, Leeds, London, Nottingham and Southampton -five cities where proposed Clean Air Zones legislation could be introduced later this year.  

After learning that some areas of their city has levels of air pollution that are considered unsafe and breach EU law, 76% of those surveyed expressed concern about the levels of air pollution in their area. There was also strong support for action to be taken, with 76% backing the introduction of Clean Air or Ultra Low Emission Zones in their city.

Discussing the results of the YouGov survey, Clean Air Alliance chair Dan Byles said: “This research demonstrates just how big an issue air quality has become. As awareness of the scale of the problem and evidence of pollution’s impact on our health has grown, people have become justifiably concerned.

“The Government and local authorities have been presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a positive impact on the environment and on people’s health. It’s vital that decisive action is taken now to address all the most polluting vehicles on our roads – not just the ones that are most obvious – and to reduce pollution where it does the most harm.” 

Air of concern

Moreover, Britain’s environmentalists will hope that London can follow the example of its French counterpart, Paris, which has just announced a ban on old cars inside the city centre. Starting this week, any car registered before 1 January, 1997 will be banned from Paris streets from Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm.

Calls will now inevitably fall on new London Mayor Sadiq Khan to adopt a similar initative in the English capital – which breached its annual pollution limits for 2016 in just one week. Khan has recently pledged a raft of new green proposals and vowed to work with the UK Government to tackle air pollution on a national and international level.

On a national level, the UK’s ‘woeful’ approach to tackling air pollution has resulted in ClientEarth being granted permission to present a case to the UK Supreme Court on 18 and 19 October this year against the UK Government over its ‘failure’ to meet deadlines for legal limits on air pollution – a legal stance that Khan has come out in support of.

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie