Environmental and pollution crises are now too big to ignore, say researchers

21 February 2019, Sarah Campbell

Row of cars with smoke

Society is on the brink of environmental breakdown that will have the greatest impact on poor people, according to IPPR.

In a report called This is a crisis: Facing up to the age of environmental breakdown, the left-wing think tank says that mainstream politicians do not realise how serious the situation is. It adds that the UK is also experiencing environmental destabilisation and is one of the ‘most nature-depleted countries in the world’.

“This is a crisis particularly for millennial and younger generations,” said Lesley Rankin, a researcher at IPPR. “They face the daunting twin tasks of preventing environmental breakdown while responding to its growing negative effects and the failure to stop the damage sooner.”

She added that action to prevent catastrophe is possible, but that we need a transformation to make societies and economies ‘sustainable, just and prepared’. However, the failure to tackle the challenge so far reflects the fact that decision makers find it hard to understand and respond to complex, system-wide problems. 

Meanwhile, a joint survey by Unicef UK and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found 92% of child health experts believe the public should more concerned about the negative impact of air pollution on children’s health. 88% say that toxic air is already causing health problems for children in their region. Last year, Unicef UK found that one in three children in the UK is breathing harmful levels of air pollution that could damage their health.

Mike Penrose, executive director at Unicef UK, said: “The UK is home to more children suffering from respiratory conditions than anywhere else in Europe. Every 20 minutes a child experiencing an asthma attack is admitted to hospital. We urgently need a public commitment to reduce air pollution to acceptable levels, a national strategy that prioritises action for children, and ring-fenced funding to implement this.”

The child health professionals surveyed said that low public awareness is because of a lack of publicly available information about the health effects of toxic air, which prevents people from taking action to protect themselves. Only 30% said there was adequate information available to health professionals to educate and inform the public.

• The government is consulting until 14 March on its National Air Pollution Control Programme.

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