In early October, the UK Government published their latest figures on air pollution data for across the country. The data reveal that 83% of reporting zones still have illegal levels of air pollution. This demonstrates how the UK government has made almost no progress in meeting legal obligations that should have been met in 2010.
These statistics are released as part of a legal requirement under the EU Ambient Air Quality directive. All EU member states must report on levels of a number of pollutants to the European Commission. In the UK we are failing to meet legal limits of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution: where the annual average concentration level cannot exceed 40µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre of air).
We’ve analysed the data for each of the zones across the UK to understand by how much they are breaching the EU legal limits. Find your local area in the table below.
More than 4 out of 5 zones have illegally high air pollution
|Zone name||Maximum modelled annual mean concentration (μg/m3)||No. times over legal limit|
|Greater London Urban Area||89||2.2|
|West Midlands Urban Area||58||1.5|
|Glasgow Urban Area||61||1.5|
|Teesside Urban Area||55||1.4|
|Southampton Urban Area||55||1.4|
|Greater Manchester Urban Area||50||1.3|
|West Yorkshire Urban Area||53||1.3|
|Sheffield Urban Area||53||1.3|
|Portsmouth Urban Area||50||1.3|
|Edinburgh Urban Area||51||1.3|
|North West Merseyside||50||1.3|
|Liverpool Urban Area||48||1.2|
|Nottingham Urban Area||46||1.2|
|Bristol Urban Area||47||1.2|
|Bournemouth Urban Area||46||1.2|
|Reading/Wokingham Urban Area||46||1.2|
|Southend Urban Area||48||1.2|
|Cardiff Urban Area||46||1.2|
|Belfast Urban Area||49||1.2|
|Leicester Urban Area||43||1.1|
|Kingston upon Hull||45||1.1|
|Swansea Urban Area||42||1.1|
|North East Scotland||44||1.1|
|Birkenhead Urban Area||40||1|
|Blackpool Urban Area||30||0.8|
|Preston Urban Area||32||0.8|
To see areas covered by the zones, click here.
What does the data mean?
Air pollution affects the health and quality of life of people across the UK. In fact, it has been estimated that air pollution causes the equivalent of 40,000 early deaths every year. Yet the latest 2018 data show there has been almost no progress in meeting legal limits of air pollution in the UK.
Compared to 2017 levels, only one additional zone came into compliance in 2018 – Birkenhead Urban Area, which includes Cheshire West and Chester Council and Wirral Metropolitan Council.
Greater London, South Wales and Glasgow are the zones with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in the UK.
Andrea Lee, ClientEarth’s Clean Air Campaigns and Policy Manager, said: “Almost ten years after legal limits should have been met, it is astounding that only 7 out of 43 zones have legal levels of air pollution. This is not simply a failure by the government to comply with its legal duties but, most importantly, it is a failure to protect the health of people across the country from toxic air.”
The fight against UK air pollution
Air pollution is a huge national problem but it can be solved. Already we’ve taken the UK government to court three times and won over their failure to protect the UK public from toxic air pollution. Our court wins forced the government to produce new air quality plans. But the government is not acting fast enough. There is still more to be done.
The government’s approach to tackling the crisis was to direct local councils to reduce air a pollution to within the legal limit within the shortest possible time. But this has mostly led to delays and weak proposals as local authorities lack the resources, capacity and leadership to get to grip with the problem.
Andrea added: “Local authorities clearly cannot deal with this matter on their own. We need leadership and action on a national scale.”
The newly released Environment Bill has outlined legal targets for air pollution but they fail to show leadership.
Katie Nield, clean air lawyer for ClientEarth, explains: “The government’s commitment to set a new air quality target is far from ground-breaking. To show real ambition to protect people’s health, the Bill needs to include a legally binding commitment to meet World Health Organization guideline levels by 2030 at the latest – which it has not done. The evidence is clear so it’s deeply concerning that the government has failed to do this.”
“We have been breathing harmful levels of pollution for too long now and as it stands this Bill is another missed opportunity for people’s right to breathe clean air.”