Green peer urges action on air quality targets

The government’s Environmental Bill update, released on Tuesday (23 July), included a status report on the World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines. With the report concluding that it would be ‘technically feasible’ to meet these guidelines, Green Peer Jenny Jones says that this is not enough, calling for urgent action to tackle air pollution. 

London skyline on a smoggy day
London skyline on a smoggy day
Imogen Benson

Green Party peer Jenny Jones has urged the government to speed up progress towards air quality targets, saying they must be achieved “as soon as possible” for the sake of public health.

With the release of the Environment Bill progress update on Tuesday (23 July), the government has published a status report on the World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines.

The report comes as part of the government’s Clean Air Strategy, launched in January, which set out plans to tackle air pollution and cut public exposure to particulate matter (PM) – the mixture of solid and liquid particles found in the air – pollution, as recommended by the WHO.

As burning wood and coal in open fires and stoves is the biggest source of PM emissions in the UK, the Clean Air Strategy aims to reduce emissions in the home, proposing measures such as legislation to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuels, and ensuring that only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022. 

Particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers – PM25 – is of high concern, as this is understood to be the pollutant that is most damaging to health. 

According to the report, measures in the Clean Air Strategy, as well as action by EU Member States, will have a substantial impact on achieving the WHO guidelines for PM25 levels. As a third of PM25 in the UK is from non-UK sources, the report outlines the importance of working with other European countries. 

The report concludes that, although meeting the guidelines will be challenging, it will be ‘technically feasible’ to do so, although further analysis will be needed to ascertain when and how the guidelines will be achieved. 

Lack of urgency

Green peer Jenny Jones has criticised the report, arguing that the government’s plans are not good enough. Jones previously criticised the government’s Clean Air Strategy when it was originally published for failing to take concrete steps against transport emissions.

Commenting on the lack of urgency in the update report, Jones said: “The next big reduction in particulate (PM25) air pollution will require a reduction in the total number of vehicles as well as a switch away from diesel. Particulates from tyre wear are one of the problems that the strategy just doesn’t get close to solving. 

“The government has failed to raise the tax on diesel, and has been vocal in discouraging local authorities from introducing ultra low emission zones that get rid of older, more polluting vehicles. 

“Working towards reaching the WHO guidelines is not the same as reaching them and for the sake of our health we need to do so as soon as possible.”