We need bold action to tackle pollution by passing a new Clean Air Act
Labour are calling for a Clean Air Act, which would establish a legal right to breathe clean air, ensuring the UK law on air quality matches the targets set by the World Health Organisation.
Everyone should have the right to breathe clean, safe air. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that public health has to be at the very top of the political agenda, and that has to start with the air we breathe. We can’t go back to business as usual - we have to make today’s Clean Air Day a turning point.
Air pollution is a national health emergency, causing 40,000 early deaths every year. In England, three in five people – including more than half our children and millions of over-65s – live in areas where the air quality is “illegally poor”. Last year, in a landmark ruling, Southwark Coroner’s Court found that air pollution “made a material contribution” to the tragic death of nine-year old Ella Kissi-Debrah. And aside from the devastating and tragic human impact, air pollution costs the UK economy £20 billion annually. We cannot go on like this.
Labour has a plan for air quality. We are calling for a Clean Air Act, which would establish a legal right to breathe clean air, ensuring the UK law on air quality matches the targets set by the World Health Organisation. It would put tough new duties on Ministers to enforce them, and it would grant our local authorities the powers they desperately need to take decisive action and clean up our air.
The Environment Bill proves yet again that this government won’t back up their lofty claims with action when it comes to pollution
The government had an opportunity to take meaningful action on this, in their Environment Bill. Instead, they decided to vote down Labour amendments to the Environment Bill that would have pegged British air quality standards to the World Health Organisation minimums - twice.
Far from being world-beating, the Environment Bill proves yet again that this government won’t back up their lofty claims with action when it comes to pollution. They’re only interested in hot air, not clean air.
Air quality is more than just a health crisis. It is a matter of social justice. It’s an issue which exacerbates the deep inequalities within our society, and widens the gap between country and town, rich and poor. Adopting WHO targets isn’t just a health matter, it is simply the right thing to do.
Labour in local government are already taking action. In Oxford, the City Council has launched a new Zero Emission Zone Pilot, that will restrict polluting vehicles from key city centre streets during the day.
Infrastructure changes in Waltham Forest have seen households exposed to illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide in the borough go down from 60,000 to 6,000 – which could increase life expectancy by 6-7 weeks as a direct result.
This has to be just the start. National Clean Air Day is a wonderful project, and one which has done admirable work to raise awareness of the dangers of air pollution. But it shouldn’t have to exist. No matter where you live in the UK, clean air should be a basic human right, not something that has to be campaigned for. Our children should be able to take clean, safe air for granted.
Only a Clean Air Act is going to guarantee that. And, as the government continues to sit on their hands, offering only leaky legislation and empty promises in place of bold action, it looks like something only Labour is able to deliver.
Luke Pollard is the Labour MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and shadow Environment Secretary.
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