Dangerous and illegal levels of air pollution are impacting the health of millions of people across the country, including those most vulnerable in our communities.
Indeed, a report by the Royal College of Physicians estimates that 40,000 early deaths every year in the UK are attributable to air pollution. Exposure to fine particulate matter is also linked to asthma, heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.
I am calling for a new Clean Air Act that enshrines the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) advisory air quality standards into domestic law.
In order to meet these standards, we should introduce a scrappage scheme for polluting vehicles, establish clean air zones around schools and expand rail freight to take lorries off our roads. We should also provide support for farming practices which reduce the release of ammonia and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The Government’s Clean Air Strategy pledged to reduce levels of fine particulate matter across the UK so that half as many people are living in areas that breach WHO guidelines by 2025. Also, evidence published by the Government in July found that it would be “technically feasible” to meet the WHO guidelines in the future.
It is, therefore, disappointing that the Environment Bill does not set enforceable targets to bring air pollution below these harmful levels set by the WHO. Furthermore, the Bill does not close the serious legal loophole on environmental targets as identified by Greenpeace. Greenpeace found that the loophole means that no legal action could be taken against the Government on any potential failings on water, plastic, waste or nature restoration until 2037 at the earliest.
I can assure you that I will scrutinise all targets and measures on air quality in the Environment Bill as it progresses through Parliament and will call on the Government to act urgently to tackle this public health emergency.