Campaigners have accused the U.K. government of “dragging its heels” over air pollution after ministers published a new set of targets.
The U.K. government published a range of legally-binding targets designed to protect the environment, clean up the air and rivers and boost nature on 16 December in a written statement to the House of Lords.
The targets include a commitment to cut average PM 2.5 concentration levels in England to 10 µg m-3 or below by 2040, and another to reduce PM2.5 population exposure of 35 per cent compared to 2018 to be achieved by the same date.
In comparison, the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines for annual average concentrations of PM2.5 is 5 μg/m3.
And in October, the European Commission announced plans cut the annual PM.2.5 concentrations from 25 µg/m³ to 10 µg/m³ in 2030.
Exposure to PM2.5 particles can cause illnesses like asthma, coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.
Speaking at the COP15 conference in Montreal, the U.K. environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey said the new targets are ambitious and will help tackle climate change.
But some clean air campaigners were less than impressed.
Jemima Hartshorn, the co-founder of the campaigning group Mums for Lungs, said “our children really deserve better”.
“With a little bit of commitment, ambition and action our toxic air could be cleaned by the end of this decade,” she added.
Sarah Woolnough, the chief executive of the charity Asthma + Lung UK, said the government has been “dragging its heels on tackling air pollution for too long”.
She said the 2040 target date falls far short of what is needed and children will be “forced” to live, learn and play in toxic levels of air pollution for another 18 years.
But she added that while it was disappointing the U.K. government could not be more ambitious, the fight for clean air was not over.
Woolnough said she hopes the government will now devise a plan on how the U.K. can reach the targets as quickly as possible, and introduce bolder interim targets.
Désirée Abrahams, from the charity Global Action Plan, said the U.K. government’s primary goal in tackling air pollution should be striving towards the target of 5µg/m₃ by 2030, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Instead, she said the final proposed targets were “weak and unambitious”.
Labour’s shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said, if elected, his party would deliver a Clean Air Act and establishing a legal right to breathe clean air.
The new targets come just weeks after campaigners reflected on the 70th anniversary of the Great Smog of London, when around 4,000 people died.
Earlier this month, the U.K. government’s chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty also published his annual report, which this year focused on air quality and the dangers of air pollution.
In the report, he warned that “everyone is affected by air pollution”.
Other targets announced on 16 December involve cracking down on pollution from sewers, halting the decline in species by 2030 and restoring marine protected areas.
In response, a Defra spokesman said a Defra spokesperson said it fully recognizes the importance of driving down PM2.5 and the new air quality targets set a “clear and ambitious trajectory that will significantly reduce its impact on health”.
“Our dual target approach will ensure reductions where concentrations are highest as well as reducing average exposure across the country by over a third by 2040 compared to 2018,” added the spokesperson.
They also said the U.K. government’s environmental improvement plan, due to be published in January 2023, will set out further actions to improve air quality and to meet long-term targets and interim targets for PM2.5.
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