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Press release: 1 June 2021
After London and Bath, Birmingham is the newest city to launch a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) to drive down illegal and harmful pollution and protect public health.
Environmental law charity ClientEarth has previously won three cases against the UK Government over its failure to address the country’s chronic air pollution problem. As a result, ministers have ordered a number of local authorities to come up with proposals to finally tackle illegal pollution in their areas. Some, like Birmingham, have put CAZs at the core of these plans.
ClientEarth lawyer Katie Nield said: “Dirty air has been putting people in serious danger for too long. A Clean Air Zone in Birmingham is a major step forward in tackling the region’s toxic air problem and making the city a healthier and better place to live.
“It’s important to remember that these schemes are put in place for a reason: to protect people’s health. Road transport is the biggest source of illegal pollution in our cities and CAZs are proven to be the most effective way to quickly reduce this pollution.
“Birmingham has stepped up to the challenge and is doing the right thing. So it is essential that the UK government now plays its part. It needs to provide help and support to people and businesses – particularly those on low incomes and small businesses – so they can move to cleaner forms of transport.”
Air pollution is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the biggest environmental health risk in the world. It also tops the list of environment health hazards in the UK and is estimated to cause the equivalent of up to 40,000 early deaths a year.
Air pollution also reduces people’s quality of life – studies have linked it to premature births, cancer, asthma, COPD, heart disease and strokes, and there is increasing evidence on potential links to dementia and infertility.
In December 2020, a coroner confirmed that the UK’s illegal and harmful levels of air pollution contributed to the death of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah in 2013. Earlier this year, the same coroner released a report calling on the UK Government to commit to stronger legal limits for fine particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) which are in line with stricter WHO guideline levels as a way to prevent future deaths.
In March of this year, an EU court ruled that the UK has “systematically and persistently” exceeded legal limits for dangerous nitrogen dioxide since 2010.
Clean Air Zones are designed to keep the dirtiest vehicles out of the most polluted areas of towns and cities by setting minimum emission standards – those vehicles that do not meet these standards are discouraged from entering the zone by having to pay a charge if they do. The government’s own evidence shows that Clean Air Zones are the best way to quickly reduce illegal and harmful levels of air pollution in our towns and cities. Recent statistics show that London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has reduced nitrogen dioxide pollution by up to 37% in the three-month period before the lockdown, compared to a scenario where no ULEZ was in place.
In March 2021, Bath introduced a Clean Air Zone that covers vans, heavy goods vehicles, buses and taxis. Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone will be the first outside of London to also include private cars, which are the biggest source of emissions of nitrogen oxides at most locations across the city.
Other cities have committed to implement Clean Air Zones over the next year:
Clean Air Zone proposals have also been put forward by authorities in Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Liverpool, but plans and timetables are yet to be finalised.
The ULEZ in London will also expand from the city centre to cover all of inner London, up to the North and South circulars, in October 2021.
ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.