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ClientEarth Communications

16th December 2020

Air pollution

Cleaning up the UK’s air: the green industrial revolution and how businesses can play their part

In November 2020 Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution. The plan includes a range of ambitious measures, including an earlier date of 2030 for the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles and proposed support for the rollout of electric vehicles.

This commitment could not only contribute to rebuilding the UK economy at a critical time but should also be a crucial step towards creating cleaner, healthier towns and cities for those who live and work in them.

We believe the route to a strong economy with good quality jobs is also one that addresses the climate emergency and protects people from the impacts of polluted air. This plan has the potential to achieve just that: according to the Government, the plan will support up to 250,000 British jobs, and one estimate showed that a focus on the manufacture of electric vehicles and related technologies could increase employment in the UK’s automotive sector by almost a third – from 170,000 to 220,000 by 2040.

Air pollution is impacting our health: we need to take action

However more immediate action is needed for the sake of people’s health. Harmful air pollution in the UK is estimated to cause the equivalent of over 40,000 early deaths each year and impact the lives of many more people, particularly vulnerable groups including children, older people and those with existing health conditions. Some are also disproportionately affected by high levels of air pollution, including people on low incomes and people from ethnic minorities.  Illegal levels of air pollution across the UK have forced ClientEarth to take the UK Government to court three times, but it is still not acting fast enough.

Now, more than ever before, we have all become aware of how important it is to look after our health. Initial studies are suggesting that air pollution could increase vulnerability to the most severe impacts of Covid-19. People recovering from the disease may join those in our society who were already more vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution. All this adds unnecessary stress on people’s lives, the NHS and the economy.

Businesses can play a significant role – but they need proper support

Businesses can play a big part in reducing transport emissions now – a recent study showed that UK and European governments give companies subsidies worth £29bn a year towards buying cars – and the vast majority of these are polluting diesel and petrol models. Cleaner transport needs adequate funding and the financial support offered needs to be tied to green conditions. With the proper support, businesses can invest in cleaner vehicles with confidence.

Following the announcement of the Plan, we wrote an open letter to the Chancellor, with the support of fifteen businesses and organisations, calling for the adoption of four policies for a resilient economy that would benefit people and planet.

In the letter, we called for:

  • A ‘mobility credit scheme’ will incentivise people to switch from an older polluting vehicle to a cleaner form of transport, such as zero exhaust emission vehicles (ZEEVs)
  • Increased funding for businesses developing technologies that support a zero emission transport system
  • Measures, e.g. a time-limited VAT rebate or exemption, that would incentivise the uptake of cleaner vehicles until they reach cost-parity with petrol and diesel counterparts
  • A long-term plan for delivering ZEEV charging infrastructure, to accompany the £1.3bn announced in the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan

A unique moment in history

We have a unique opportunity ahead of us to protect people’s health and the environment, while laying the foundation for a resilient, thriving and inclusive post-pandemic economy. The right regulation, planning and incentives to accompany the long-term ambition will ensure that people’s right to breathe clean air is respected.