Improving air quality Contents

1Our inquiry

1.Poor air quality has substantial impacts on public health and the environment. Every year around 3 million early deaths are caused by air pollution worldwide.3 In the UK, two air pollutants (nitrogen dioxide and particulates) are responsible for an estimated 40,000 early deaths each year.4 Air pollution also threatens biodiversity and ecosystems across the UK. The UK has been unlawfully breaching nitrogen dioxide limit values since 2010.5

2.The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care,6 and Transport Committees established a joint inquiry on 9 October 2017 to consider the Government’s most recent plan for reducing levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Given the UK’s longstanding breaches of air quality limits, and the clear need for Departments to work collaboratively to address the issue, we decided to launch a cross-cutting inquiry to examine whether the Government’s latest approach was adequate. In conducting this inquiry we aimed to ensure air quality problems remain at the forefront of public debate and policy-making, and hoped to raise public awareness of this national health crisis.

3.The majority of our evidence concentrated on road transport, which is responsible for some 80% of roadside NO2 concentrations and is the key focus of the 2017 plan.7 We heard evidence from health and air quality policy experts, as well as local authority representatives and Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Department for Transport; the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (formerly Department for Communities and Local Government); and HM Treasury.

4.This Report makes a number of recommendations on the Government’s approach to air quality and how the delivery of the 2017 plan should be improved. We focused on the need for action that:

a)prioritises the protection of public health and the environment over the demonstration of compliance with legal limits in a limited number of places;

b)unifies legislation and establishes clear enforcement mechanisms after EU-exit;

c)increases ambition, speed of action, and support to tackle air quality; and

d)substantially improves levels of cross-departmental collaboration.

3 World Health Organization, factsheet, 2016

4 Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Every breath we take, February 2016, p.4

5 National Audit Office (NAO), Air quality, HC 529, November 2017, p.7

6 Formerly Health Committee

Published: 15 March 2018