Improving air quality Contents
Air pollution cuts short an estimated 40,000 lives across the country each year, costing the UK an annual £20 billion. Children, the elderly, and those with existing medical conditions are at the greatest risk. The UN special rapporteur recently said he was “alarmed that despite repeated judicial instruction, the UK government continues to flout its duty to ensure adequate air quality and protect the rights to life and health of its citizens. It has violated its obligations”. The detrimental effects on air quality from a series of policies by successive governments over many years has led to a number of court cases against the UK Government. There is an urgent need for national leadership and consensus-building to bring about a step change in how the problem of air quality is tackled.
The Government cannot continue to put public health at risk. It needs to:
- Place the protection of public health and the environment, rather than technical compliance or political convenience, at the centre of air quality policy.
- Develop a properly resourced national air quality support scheme available to all local authorities struggling with air pollution.
- Introduce a Clean Air Act to improve existing legislation and enshrine the right to clean air in UK law.
- Initiate a national health campaign to highlight the dangers of air pollution, including the fact that air quality can be far worse inside a vehicle than on the street. Regular motorists, children, and vulnerable groups must be informed of these risks. These groups must be provided with accurate, localised air pollution data.
- Bring forward the date by which manufacturers must end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars, in line with more ambitious commitments from around the world. Manufacturers of private, public and commercial vehicles should also take steps to reduce emissions from tyres and braking mechanisms, known as the ‘Oslo effect’, which is also a significant contributor to poor air quality.
- Require the automobile industry to contribute to a new clean air fund, following the ‘polluter pays’ principle, on a scale that adequately compensates for the health costs of diesel pollution.
- Align climate change schemes, urban planning, public transport and fiscal incentives with air quality goals to prevent Government policy from working at cross-purposes.