Air quality Contents

1Our inquiry

1.Poor air quality has environmental and health impacts.1 Each year air pollution causes 3.3 million deaths worldwide; the World Health Organisation has called this a public health emergency.2 In the UK, two air pollutants alone (particulates and nitrogen dioxide) contribute to the early deaths of between 40,000 and 50,000 people.3 Air pollution also threatens biodiversity and ecosystems and has economic impacts on farming.

2.To minimise impacts, EU Directives set limits on the levels of key chemicals permissible in outdoor air,4 but the UK is in breach of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) limits in 38 out of its 43 areas. In September 2015, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published draft plans in response to a Supreme Court ruling that the Government must submit new plans to the EU Commission setting out how the UK would achieve compliance at the earliest date.5 In October 2015, we invited evidence on these plans as well as on the adequacy of Defra’s approaches for tackling wider air pollution.

3.We have not considered emissions of all pollutants or from all sources, such as from industry and domestic and commercial buildings; we focused on transport emissions in view of their central role in Defra’s plans to cut NO₂ pollution, and on agricultural emissions in light of the Department’s responsibility for the sector. We also considered greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture as Defra has lead responsibility for this issue.

4.This report has three main strands: a) the Government’s overarching approaches for tackling air pollution from all sectors; b) cutting transport pollution;6 and c) cutting agriculture’s emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. We are grateful to all who provided written and oral evidence.7

1 See Annex for description of selected key pollutants affecting health and the environment.

2 Note: Public Health England, Estimating local mortality burdens associated with particulate air pollution, April 2014, para 2.2.2, explains the basis on which mortality figures are cited; “long-term exposure to air pollution is understood to be a contributory factor to deaths…ie unlikely to be the sole cause of death to individuals…it is likely that air quality contributes a small amount to the deaths of a larger number of exposed individuals rather than being solely responsible for a number of deaths equivalent to the calculated figure”.

3Air pollution is now a public health emergency” The Independent, 19 January 2016. Note: Defra cites increased mortality of 23,500 from nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 29,000 from particulate pollution in its current plans. A recent study by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatric and Child health attributes 40,000 deaths each year to poor air quality.

4 For example Directive 2008/50/EC on Ambient Air Quality and Directive 2001/81/EC on National Emissions Ceilings for certain pollutants. The 1999 Gothenburg Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone also sets national emission ceilings for 2010–2020 on four pollutants (sulphur dioxide (SO₂), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia (NH₃).

5 R (on the application of ClientEarth) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Respondent) [2015] UKSC 28. On appeal from [2012] EWCA Civ 897, See Supreme Court Press Summary, 29 April 2015.

6 In a short inquiry and in light of work by other Committees on aviation issues we did not focus on air quality issues specific to air travel or airport expansion.

7 Oral and written evidence submitted to this inquiry can be found on the Committee’s Air quality inquiry webpage.

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

25 April 2016