Friday, 12 May 2017

Brexit: and air pollution

We've got a real problem with the quality of the air we breathe - in most places in the UK:
Futures Forum: Air pollution: "So, are we facing up to what's being called an urgent public health crisis?"

Even in this part of the country:
Futures Forum: Devon County Council elections: the issues > air quality

The government has promised to do something about it:
Futures Forum: How to deal with diesel: scrappage

Although, as the Telegraph points out, there are fears that Brexit will mean a weakening of EU regulations on air quality - regulations which the UK has still not complied with:

What EU air quality targets does the UK have to meet?

The EU's Ambient Air Quality Directive has set a series of targets to limit the levels of dangerous pollutants in the air. One of the most challenging has proven to be for nitroxen dioxide, which is believed to cause thousands of deaths a year.

EU member states were required to produce plans to limit nitrogen dioxide to acceptable levels by 2010, or 2015 at the latest. The UK failed to do so and is currently expected to have illegally high nitrogen dioxide levels in many areas by 2020.

What do the targets mean in practice?

They require a significant reduction of air pollution in many British urban areas, which currently exceed the legal pollution limits - both through cleaner specifications of new vehicles, and restrictions on the most polluting old vehicles.

As well as imposing the targets themselves, EU laws also empowered campaigners to challenge the UK Government in the courts over its failure to meet the targets.

Following a legal challenge by ClientEarth, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs brought out a new strategy last year to try to improve air quality with new clean air zones in five UK cities, as well as London which already has a similar plan.

Polluting old diesel lorries, vans and taxis will face charges for driving in the zones.

Will Brexit mean an end to all that?

It could do - and campaigners fear it may.

Although the targets would technically remain in UK law, having been enshrined through Air Quality Standards Regulation, the EU would no longer have a role in enforcement and the UK would be free to repeal the laws.

Alan Andrews of Client Earth says: "We would be concerned that if we were to withdraw from the EU, a lot of momentum around air quality and efforts finally starting to take hold would be lost, and that would have disastrous consequences for public health in the UK.

"The worry would be, if we were to withdraw, the government would look to immediately amend or repeal existing legislation and choose its own timetable for meeting the limits - or scrap the limits."

This, he claims, would lead to "thousands more people dying".

The House of Commons library also concludes that weaker air quality rules might result.

"An EU exit would allow the UK to relax air quality standards and review any deadlines for meeting them," it says. "The UK is currently subject to EU infraction proceedings, so exiting would also remove the threat of fines for non-compliance.

"However, the increasing awareness in the UK of the broad range of adverse health effects and increased mortality resulting from air pollution exposure could make any substantial watering down of targets politically sensitive."

What will Brexit mean for the environment and Britain's green targets? - Telegraph

The New Economics Foundation also has something to say about it:



12 MAY, 2017 

Last week, the UK government published plans to tackle air pollution and bring it within legal limits.

MPs called it a public health emergency last April. A few months later, Theresa May assured the Commons that “nobody in this house doubts the importance of the issue of air quality. We have taken action, there is more to do and we will do it.”

Bold talk. But the plan itself is a shambles.

ClientEarth, an environmental law group, has taken the government to court three times since 2010 over their failure to adequately tackle air pollution, which is required by EU law. The last version of the plan was deemed illegal- and ClientEarth have said that this latest iteration is even worse.

The two ways to most effectively curb air pollution are to cut traffic from designated clean air zones, or to set up a scrappage scheme to get the worst vehicles off the road while compensating those drivers.

Yet despite the government’s own technical report saying that we need 27 new clean air zones, the plan actually proposes no more than the 6 that were outlined in the previous plan. It may be true that the government doesn’t want to anger driving voters so close to an election, but we’ll all pay the substantial price for failing to act now.


The numbers are staggering. A Royal College of Physicians report found that air pollution is linked to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK per year, including 10,000 in London alone. It has been linked to cancer, asthma, strokes and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and most recently, dementia.

But air pollution deals an uneven hand, and certain parts of society are more at risk than others. The government themselves have said that among the evidence they examined, lower income groups face higher exposure to NO2. Lower income groups also have higher risk factors that make it more likely their health will be detrimentally affected by air pollution.

Add this to a health service already under increasing pressure? It’s an alarming picture.


The court case mounted by Client Earth raises vital questions about power, accountability and responsibility over the environment.

The UK has been breaching EU legislation on air pollution for seven years, with London overshooting its entire annual air pollution limit for 2017 in just the first five days of January, and the EU recently threatened to take the matter to the European Court of Justice. But with action to manage and improve air quality largely driven by EU legislation, it is unclear what will happen after Brexit.

This question applies not only to rules around air pollution, but to much of the UK’s environmental regulation law, which comes from the EU. Who will make sure the government keeps its promises, or even make commitments in the first place?

Fears are growing that the government might replace current legislation with new laws giving ministers far greater powers to change pollution limits. As we reported last month, leaked documents imply that ‘trade and growth’ will become the overriding priority for civil servants, at the expense of issues like climate change.

Over the last seven years, the government has shown us that they would quite happily let the UK’s residents stew in a toxic soup. We can’t let them write rules that they can bend or ignore at will.

Children from one of Britain’s most polluted neighbourhoods have written to the leaders of the main political parties urging them to publish a clean air act within 100 days of the election, and in doing so they are sending a clear message. We need an environment that keeps us healthy and safe, and a government that sets rules that protect us from harm through environmental regulation that upholds high standards in the wake of Brexit.

Air pollution: who will stand up for our health and environment after Brexit? | New Economics Foundation

No comments: