Today the Government has announced its vitally important Clean Air Strategy. The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change supports many of its proposals but we urgently need more details about its implementation in order to prevent the 40,000 deaths a year air pollution contributes to, which are a public health emergency.

The Government’s duty to reduce air pollution and protect population health should be enshrined in law through a new Clean Air Act, with legal enforcement powers and resources for local authorities and national agencies to protect health when air pollution levels are high. 

While there is no Clean Air Act proposed within the Clean Air Strategy, and no binding or enforceable limits, we are pleased that Government has confirmed that air quality will be a key part of the Environment Bill. We are also reassured to see an ambition to halve the number of people living in areas that exceed WHO guideline levels for PM2.5, compared to 2016, but ultimately advocate for a reduction in vehicle use overall. This strategy must target the areas that need it the most.

Air quality is an issue through which we can help mitigate climate change whilst improving public health, so the clear appreciation of the need to promote, facilitate and fund active transport is welcomed. The Alliance would encourage coordinating efforts between existing strategies and funds such as Cycling, Walking and Investment Strategy, Transforming Futures Fund and NHS Long Term Plan.

We are disappointed that the ban on the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol cars and vans has not been brought forward to 2030, remaining at 2040. Other countries have more ambitious targets, such as 2030 in India and 2025 in Norway. We welcome commitments to integrate both air quality and climate change considerations into Government policies such as those governing agriculture and energy.

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change has long advocated for an ‘NHS Clean Air Fund’ to be created to support the adoption of low and zero tailpipe emission vehicles for the NHS. While this does not feature in the Clean Air Strategy, we are delighted that there are plans to support the Medical Royal Colleges and General Medical Council in embedding the health impact of poor air quality into education and training curricula. We are pleased that this comes, alongside a commitment to the development and provision of guidance materials on air quality for healthcare professionals and their patients. We ourselves hope to be instrumental in bringing some of these objectives about.

UK Health Alliance on Climate Change Director, Nicky Philpott said:

“Our members, some 650,000 UK health professionals, have consistently called for the Government’s commitment to improving air quality be enshrined in law. We are therefore encouraged that the Government has confirmed air quality as a key part of the Environment Bill.

“We are pleased to see a clear understanding of the many factors that contribute to air pollution, its numerous serious health impacts and an ambition to halve the number of people living in areas that are over WHO guideline levels for particulate PM2.5, pollution compared to 2016.

“Air pollution is a public health emergency, and no levels of exposure are safe. Its effects on public health, our environment and the UK economy are catastrophic, so we urge Government to accelerate its efforts wherever possible.   

“This strategy is a vital first step in this process, but we urge government to set out clear timings and targets on how it will deliver this strategy in the shortest possible time frame.”

A full list of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change’s Alliance’s policy recommendations on air quality can be found at:

http://www.ukhealthalliance.org/moving-beyond-air-quality-crisis/