Poor air quality reduces the life expectancy of everyone in the UK by an average of seven to eight months and up to 50,000 people a year may die prematurely because of it. Air pollution also causes significant damage to ecosystems. Despite these facts being known air quality is not seen as a priority across government and the UK is failing to meet a range of domestic and European targets.
The quantified costs of poor air quality that are used to develop policy are out-dated. They do not take account of all the known health effects, treatment costs, and environmental damage, nor do they take account of fines that could be imposed by the EU for failing to meet air quality targets. Many Government departments do not seem fully to understand how their policies affect air quality, the impact poor air quality has, and its cost to the economy. Awareness of the issue needs to be raised at all levels of government, and policies need to take greater account of air quality impacts.
Awareness needs to be raised and behaviour needs to change if air quality targets are to be met. Transport causes the most exposure to harmful air pollutants, and air quality targets will not be met without a significant shift in transport policy. Local authorities need to do more to tackle poor air quality, and they must be given information on how to develop local air quality strategies.
The cost-benefit analysis is clear: what is needed is the political will to make this a priority and to commit the resources to address it now so that we can reap the benefits of improved health.