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ClientEarth Communications

31st January 2020

Air pollution

The Environment Bill: another missed opportunity for clean air

Since the Environment Bill was first announced in December 2018, we’ve been pressuring the government to create stricter legislation on clean air and reduce the UK’s level of air pollution. The Government first released the long-awaited bill in October 2019. Following the general election, a new version of the Bill was introduced to Parliament on 30th January 2020. The Bill aims to tackle the UK’s biggest environmental challenges but misses the mark on clean air.

ClientEarth lawyer Katie Nield said: “There is no legally binding commitment to meet WHO air pollution standards by 2030 in the Bill. Its absence means the government is completely failing people across our country who are breathing harmful and dirty air. Despite warm words and promises to listen to health professionals and worried parents, when it comes to the crunch, they have chosen to let the public down.

“Without ambitious legally binding targets and clear duties to back them up, ministers, local authorities and public bodies will continue to drag their feet on this public health crisis. This is a missed opportunity by the new government to put people first and drive the clean growth that would make the UK a world leader.”

The UK’s air pollution problem

Recent data on UK air pollution shows that 83% of reporting zones in the UK have air pollution levels that breach the UK’s legal limits. These limits are also at least two times higher than guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

Air pollution can have serious negative health impacts for children, older people and those with existing health problems. Estimates show air pollution causes the equivalent of 40,000 early deaths every year in the UK.

Growing concern about the country’s toxic air

The UK’s air pollution problem isn’t going unnoticed.

Our recent YouGov survey revealed almost two thirds of the British public think that the UK government should introduce legally binding air pollution targets that match the WHO guidelines. The UK Environment Bill has outlined legal targets for air pollution but they fail to show leadership.

Katie Nield explains: “It is also worrying that the rules for what it must do to deliver this new target are much weaker than those in existing clean air laws. Currently, where pollution targets are missed ministers are required to do everything they can to achieve legal limits in the shortest time possible. These requirements are conspicuous by their absence in the Bill, which instead risks us going backwards."

We want more ambitious targets in the Environment Bill

ClientEarth are part of a growing coalition of leading health, transport and environment organisations and we will continue to call on the UK government to introduce stricter clean air laws in the Environment Bill. We want to see:

  • Stricter legal limits to meet WHO guideline levels for particulate matter by 2030
  • Robust plans to ensure binding targets are met
  • A new ‘clean air duty’ that requires all public bodies to actively play their part in delivering solutions to tackle air pollution

More ambitious targets will require the government to speed up progress on clean air – with road transport an immediate priority. A national network of Clean Air Zones that charge the most polluting vehicles to enter the most polluted parts of towns and cities – much like the London Ultra Low Emission Zone – with help and support for people and businesses to move on to cleaner forms of transport would be a good place to start.

In fact, our recent YouGov survey results showed that over two thirds of people in the UK are in support of such a scheme. A clear majority also want to see the government provide incentives like diesel scrappage schemes, grants for electric vehicles and tax rebates to make cleaner vehicles more affordable.