Today, the Government released its long-awaited Environment Bill to tackle the UK’s biggest environmental challenges. 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. As it stands, today’s bill is another missed opportunity for people’s right to breathe clean air.
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, 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.”
“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 today’s Bill, which instead risks us going backwards.”
“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.”
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
- A new ‘clean air duty’ that requires all public bodies to actively play their part in delivering solutions to tackle air pollution
- The right to clean air enshrined into domestic law
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.
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