Ambassadors of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change have this week written to all MPs, urging them to support the retention of amendments made in the Lords which introduce a legally-binding commitment to reducing fine particulate air pollution (PM 2.5) in the UK to below the maximum level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2005, and to doing so by 2030 at the latest.
The amendment to the Environment Bill, introduced in the Lords last month, includes a commitment for the Government to reduce levels of fine particulate (PM 2.5) pollution to below 10 µg/m3 by 2030, then in line with WHO recommended levels. Current UK legal limits for PM 2.5 are more than double this – at 25 µg/m3 – and are frequently exceeded. Moreover, since the Lords’ vote the WHO’s recommendations have been updated, widening the chasm between the health evidence and the UK’s legal limits of PM 2.5 pollution – which is now five times higher.
Despite this, today the Government intends to remove this amendment in the House of Commons. By doing this the Government would delay the setting of new air quality targets, and would implement them through secondary legislation. UKHACC believes this is insufficient to protect the public from immediate harm. Like the Coroner who recently recorded air pollution as a cause of death for the first time, in the tragic case of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, we believe that achieving the WHO’s 2005 targets by 2030 should be seen as the “minimum requirement”.
Air pollution is among the greatest environmental determinants of health, and contributes to many serious and chronic health conditions affecting every organ in the body. Meanwhile, the sources of particulate pollution – road transport, domestic and industrial burning – are also the sources of a significant proportion of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. We must tackle the challenges of climate change and air pollution simultaneously, if we are to meet the UK’s commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to show leadership as we prepare to host COP26.
Like many actions that protect health and the environment, improving air quality in line with WHO guidelines would also bring a significant economic and social benefit to the UK. CBI Economics has found that improving air quality could bring a yearly boost of £1.6 billion to the UK economy, through 3 million additional working days and reduced rates of early retirement.
As the Government aims to “build back better”, the economic, health, and environmental cases for strong legal protection from fine particulate air pollution are clear. This should be in line with standards set by the WHO, and introduced as soon as possible. Parliament now has the opportunity to improve health and build resilience to future health crises, to boost the economy and increase productivity, and to show global leadership in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation.
Read the full text of our letter below, or view as a pdf.
Cover image: “41. The House of Commons sits for the first time in the new Parliament, following State Opening” by UK Parliament is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0