UK must commit to WHO air pollution limits, write Camden Council

Cllr Adam Harrison, cabinet member for a sustainable Camden, writes for Air Quality News about the importance of enshrining World Health Organisation (WHO) air pollution limits in UK law. 

This month the Environment Bill is expected to return to Parliament after another long delay.

A potentially landmark piece of legislation, the Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enshrine into law the legal objectives for air pollution that are desperately needed to protect our health.

Air pollution is believed to cause 36,000 deaths each year in the UK, and some estimates place the economic cost at £20bn annually. According to NHS England, 5% of all deaths of those aged over 30 are attributable to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) alone. Despite this, the UK’s current legal objective for PM2.5 allows for air twice as polluted as the WHO UK  recommended level.

In its current form, the Environment Bill is inadequate. It only commits to bringing proposed new objectives for PM2.5 for Parliamentary approval by October 2022, but with no guarantee over the stringency of the pollution limit or the timescales for adoption or compliance. We are at risk of ending up with watered-down legislation which is too little, too late to address the air quality health crisis.

We are urging local government and citizens to take immediate action for cleaner air by calling on their MPs to support a proposed amendment to the Environment Bill to include the WHO standard for PM2.5 as the legally-binding objective to be achieved by 2030.

Council representatives and members of the public can use the template letter and email below to urge their MPs to back the WHO standards in the Environment Bill.

Air pollution is a non-partisan issue and does not respect constituency borders. Although it affects everyone’s health, we know it most severely impacts vulnerable populations, deprived communities and BAME groups. We need to be working together across all forms of government with unified and ambitious objectives to drive down this inequity and ultimately protect public health.

That’s why Camden was the first London borough to commit to World Health Organization guidelines for air quality by 2030, and why we are encouraging other councils and national Government to also adopt the WHO standards.

Covid has laid bare the importance of respiratory health; adopting WHO guidelines would demonstrate the Government’s commitment to a world-leading policy that supports both environmental and public health improvement.

Template letter (for councillors) Email your MP (for residents)

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