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Environment Bill needs targets to tackle air pollution

Darren Shirley's picture

The Environment Bill was announced in yesterday's Queen’s Speech, with a commitment that it will include clean air. As it progresses through Parliament, we will continue to work to ensure that it contains the strongest possible measures to protect health and save lives through ensuring transport is cleaned up. 

DEFRA is currently finalising the long awaited Bill. With commitments to set up an Office of Environmental Protection, to protect wildlife and green spaces and to minimise waste, the Bill promises to ensure that protecting the environment remains a Government priority after Brexit.  As part of the Healthy Air Campaign, we’re calling for the Environment Bill to make the UK a world leader in the fight against air pollution.

Nearly 2,000 sites across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are in breach of air pollution limits, and tens of thousands of deaths are attributable to air pollution each year. With public and political interest in this issue higher than at any time since the smoggy 1950s, the Environment Bill brings an opportunity to protect the health of people across the UK. To achieve this, we need new clean air laws to set an effective framework for action in UK law. This is needed to ensure that action is taken on transport across the country to reduce the sources of the pollution blighting communities. 

In June we joined Healthy Air Campaign partners in calling for:

  • A legally binding commitment to meet World Health Organisation guideline levels for air pollution by 2030
  •  A duty that requires all local authorities and public bodies such as Highways England to factor air pollution into all their decision-making
  • A national Healthy Air Plan that includes concrete measures to protect children and older people, people with chronic illnesses, and those who suffer the highest exposure including outdoor and transport workers
  • A right to clean air in the UK: when we leave the EU, people's current right to breathe clean air should be given clear statutory footing within domestic law
  • Better monitoring and reporting of air pollution and its impacts.

"We need legally binding air quality targets, along with proper support from the Government to ensure towns and cities across the country can deliver cleaner air and zero emissions from their transport networks."

- Darren Shirley, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport

With transport the main contributor to poor air quality, the Government should bring in a national network of Clean Air Zones where polluting vehicles are discouraged, as well as investing in public transport, walking and cycling to give people alternatives to driving. A ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will come into force from 2040, but we want to see this brought forward to 2030 in order to clean up air more rapidly as well as helping the UK to meet net zero carbon emission targets.

Buses are already a sustainable choice in that they greatly reduce car traffic - but buses themselves must be made less polluting. Campaign for Better Transport is calling on the Government to set a deadline of 2025 for all new buses to be electric or hydrogen powered. To support this, it should agree a bus manufacturing sector deal to make the UK a world leader in zero emission buses. Finally, rail mustn’t be forgotten: a rolling programme of electrification, and replacement of diesel trains with battery or hydrogen models would contribute to healthier air and reduce carbon emissions.