New coalition calls for ‘fair and ambitious’ Clean Air Act

A coalition of green groups including ClientEarth, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FoE) has launched today (15 February) to encourage the UK Government to take "urgent action" on air pollution through the creation of a new Clean Air Act.

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Sixty years after the Clean Air Act was first introduced, the newly-formed group is calling for a revamped Act to tackle the sources of modern air pollution, accelerate the shift to zero-emissions transport, make the UK a world leader in clean technology, and improve existing laws to give the UK the most ambitious air quality legislation in Europe.

The coalition’s launch comes a day after new research revealed that 58% of the British public now believe that current levels of air pollution in the UK are harmful or very harmful to public health. That poll, conducted by YouGov, found that 65% would support a new Clean Air Act to tackle the issue.

“This is an urgent public health crisis over which the Prime Minister must take personal control,” ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton said. “Instead of making the same arguments against taking action that were made sixty years ago we need the Government to wake up to our air pollution crisis.

“Just as we did back then, we now need urgent action including a new Clean Air Act that is ambitious, fair and far-reaching enough to clean up our air across all of the UK.”

Public health crisis

ClientEarth recently won its High Court case against the Government over the failure of ministers to tackle illegal air quality levels. Annually, an estimated 40,000 early deaths across the UK are caused by rising air pollution levels, which breached annual limits in London just five days into 2017.

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation – a member of the new coalition – said: “It’s no exaggeration to say that air pollution is a public health crisis. It contributes to up to 40,000 early deaths a year across the UK. Toxic air is a risk to everyone but hits those with a lung condition, children and the elderly hardest. That’s why we are part of this dedicated coalition committed to urgent action on tackling air pollution.

“We need a new fair and ambitious Clean Air Act, with targets to slash pollution levels across the country and plans to remove the post polluting vehicles from our towns and cities.”

Toxic issue

With diesel vehicles now responsible for almost 40% of all NO2 emissions in the UK’s major cities, the UK has no choice but to rid its streets of the most polluting diesel vehicles, according to London Mayor Sadiq Khan. The Department for Transport (Dft) is said to be working with Defra on a scheme which will offer cashback or a discount for people to scrap old diesel vehicles in exchange for low-emission models.

In July last year, Khan announced a wide-ranging action plan to tackle toxic air in London, including the implementation of clean bus corridors, an extension of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and an emissions surcharge on the biggest vehicle emitters. Meanwhile, the Government announced a further £290m to support electric vehicles as part of the Autumn Budget.

Amid a plethora of reports which highlight the devastating extent to which the issue of air pollution is impacting the health of UK citizens and the world population in general, edie has taken a look at the shocking statistics behind the air quality crisis

The full list of coalition members includes: British Lung Foundation, Campaign for Better Transport, Chartered Institute Water and Environmental Management, Clean Air in London, ClientEarth, Cycling UK, FoE, Greenpeace, Leeds Tidal, Living Streets, London Cycling Campaign, London Sustainability Exchange, MedAct, National Union of Students, Purpose Climate Lab, Royal College of Physicians, Sustrans, UK100.

edie podcast: Sadiq Khan and ClientEarth’s air quality crusade

London Mayor Sadiq Khan and ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton were the special guests on a recent edie podcast episode which investigates London’s ongoing air quality crisis, the Government’s green policy priorities, and the role of business in delivering a low-carbon economy.

George Ogleby

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