UK media reaction: 22 September 2021

“Wake-up call” for UK Government as WHO drastically tightens its air pollution guidelines – ClientEarth

Environmental law charity ClientEarth have said the UK Government should be “scrambling to act” after the World Health Organization (WHO) published its new guidelines on air pollution today.

The WHO is proposing drastic changes to its previous recommendations, published in 2005, reflecting current scientific evidence on the threat air pollution poses to human health. The scientific body has slashed its original recommendations for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

ClientEarth, which has consistently called for the government to align with WHO guidelines, warns that the gap between the WHO recommendations and legal limits in the UK is only getting wider meaning citizens are exposed to toxic pollution far above what we know to be acceptable:

  • For PM2.5, UK legal limits are now 4 times higher than WHO recommendations.
  • For NO2, UK legal limits are now 4 times higher than WHO recommendations.

Legal limits for NO2 are still “systematically and persistently” exceeded more than a decade after they should have been met.

Andrea Lee, clean air campaigns manager at ClientEarth, said: “These new guidelines reflect the best available science and the conclusion is irrefutable: air pollution, even at levels lower than previously thought, seriously endangers people’s health and action needs to be taken.

“This must serve as a wake-up call for the UK Government – ministers should be scrambling to act. As the Environmental Bill is currently going through Parliament, the government needs to listen to the health evidence, show leadership and get on with tightening air quality standards that better protect people now.”


Notes to editors:

WHO guidelines are the most authoritative scientific reference to help policymakers across the world in setting standards and goals for air quality management.

The WHO recommends that the concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) not exceed an annual mean concentration of 5 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) and 10 µg/m3 respectively. Previous guidelines were set at 10 µg/m3 for PM2.5 and 40 µg/m3 for NO2.

Air pollution 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 nationally. There are currently 33 out of 43 reporting zones which chart levels of NO2 pollution above legal limits.

ClientEarth has previously brought and won three cases in front of the courts in the UK – on these three occasions, the courts have found the UK Government to be breaching the law on NO2 pollution and have ordered ministers to produce new compliant air quality plans to tackle the problem.

About ClientEarth

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.