A number of campaigners and politicians at local, national and European level have called for action to address air pollution in the UK in the wake of the Supreme Court judgement this morning (April 29).
Defra was today ordered by the Supreme Court to produce and consult on new air quality plans by a deadline of December 31 2015 which would see the UK meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide in all zones (see AirQualityNews.com story).
ClientEarth, the organisation which brought the action, hailed the landmark judgement and specifically called for action to cut pollution from diesel vehicles, voicing support for measures such as congestion charging and a national network of low emission zones (see AirQualityNews.com story).
Diesel vehicle emissions were also specifically highlighted as a major issue by members of the London Assembly, while several political parties and campaigners also called for more low emission zones in UK cities.
This follows a high profile ‘myth-busting’ campaign launched by the UK motor industry earlier this year aimed at tackling the “demonisation of diesel” vehicles over their impact on air quality. The industry says that new diesel technology can play a “vital role” in tackling air pollution (see AirQualityNews.com story).
Commenting after the judgement, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ (SMMT) chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: “Industry recognises the issues around air quality and is keen to see policy that reflects the progress made on vehicle emissions and wider challenges of CO2 reduction.
“Policies to improve air quality should focus on encouraging the uptake of the latest low emission vehicles, while also addressing other sources such as electricity generation and heating, which between them account for more than half of NOx emitted in the UK (Defra). Today’s diesel engines are the cleanest ever: high tech filters capture 99% of particulates and NOx emissions are down 84% since 2000.”
A spokesperson for SMMT added that it would provide a response when Defra presents detailed air quality plans for consultation later this year.
With the judgement coming just over a week before the General Election on May 7, various politicians and campaigners have commented on the case and the need to address air pollution in the UK.
Labour’s shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle MP said today’s ruling was a “damning indictment of the Tory-led government’s total failure to tackle the UK’s air pollution which is causing tens of thousands of early deaths each year”.
She also reiterated Labour’s pledge to deliver a national framework for low emission zones “to enable local authorities to encourage cleaner, greener, less polluting vehicles to tackle this silent killer”.
Another of Labour’s shadow environment ministers, Barry Gardiner MP, also tweeted this morning that Labour “will deliver clean air” adding: “The Lib Dems and the Tories could have tackled air pollution. They chose not to. #dontvotegreenandfeelblue.”
Local transport spokesperson for the Green Party, Caroline Russell, said the speed of the Court’s judgement “highlights the urgency of the issue”.
She said: “The eight month timescale for Defra to produce and consult on a plan to cut emissions must now concentrate minds and lead to immediate and widespread measures to clean up our air.
“This judgement is binding on whoever wins the election next Thursday. It must be a priority to reduce these unnecessary deaths, protect the health of children growing up in towns and cities and ensure all those people with underlying heart and lung problems are able to breathe confident that the air is clean.”
Keith Taylor, Green MEP for South East England, added that the government “should be looking at Paris good practice such as free public transport in towns and cities on days of high air pollution and prohibiting heavy polluting diesel vehicles from city centres”.
Chair of the London Assembly environment committee, Liberal Democrat Stephen Knight said a new air quality plan produced by Defra “needs to include radical measures to reduce the use of diesel vehicles in urban areas and to deliver a big switch to electric buses and taxis”.
He added that the judgement was “an important wake-up call to politicians of all parties” ahead of the General Election.
Mr Knight said: “Without more decisive action a child born today might be able to vote before they gain the right to breathe clean air. This ruling challenges the complacency that has for too long been shown by Whitehall – and of course Boris Johnson at City Hall – in tackling air pollution.”
British Heart Foundation
Speaking to AirQualityNews.com outside the Supreme Court in Westminster following the judgement today (April 29), British Heart Foundation policy officer Amy Smullen said the charity was “absolutely thrilled” with today’s verdict.
She added that it “sends a clear message to UK’s government to clean up the UK’s dirty air to protect the seven million people living with cardiovascular disease in the UK”.
Ms Smullen also highlighted the BHF research in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh on the links between air pollution and cardiovascular disease.
She said: “We’ve been funding medical research for over 10 years into this area and what has happened now is that the evidence is there. We know there is a direct link between exposure to air pollution and cardiovascular conditions such as heart failure, heart attack and strokes. What’s happened over the past year is that we have taken this message to government and really forced this home that this is a public health issue – alongside cancer, alongside diet – that the government must protect the public on.”
“We’ve been funding medical research for over 10 years into this area and what has happened now is that the evidence is there. We know there is a direct link between exposure to air pollution and cardiovascular conditions such as heart failure, heart attack and strokes.”
Global Action Plan
Environmental behavioural change charity Global Action Plan (GAP) set out a range of measures it felt was needed to improve the UK’s air quality in the wake of today’s Supreme Court verdict, but argued that legislation “is only part of the solution”.
Andy Deacon, managing partner of GAP, said: “The incoming government needs to understand that practical behaviour change initiatives, that get people to consider the impact their actions have on the health of their communities, are also needed.”
He called for measures such as a network of cleaner air zones around hospitals, inclusion of air quality levels in weather reports and better education of motorists on how to drive in the most environmentally-friendly way.
Mr Deacon said: “Ultimately, a joined up creative approach is needed, but currently missing. Without it the number of deaths a result of air pollution will only increase.”