Car fumes and traffic jam.

CIEH-backed amendment to Environment Bill puts spotlight on clean air

House of Lords increases pressure on the government to stick to WHO targets on air pollution
15 September 2021 , Steve Smethurst

The House of Lords has renewed pressure on the government to take a more ambitious approach to tackling air pollution. In a vote on 6 September, peers voted in favour of an amendment to the Environment Bill that would commit the government to reducing levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) to within World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines by 2030 at the latest.

CIEH “strongly welcomed” the vote and was a key player in securing the amendment, as a partner of the Healthy Air Campaign (HAC) coalition of charities and public health organisations.

The amendment, tabled by Baroness Hayman of Ullock and supported by HAC, was passed by 181 votes to 159. Baroness Hayman argued that the amendment is critical to driving the progress the country needs and that a great deal of existing evidence and information is already available for the government to start taking action.

Katie Nield, a lawyer at non-profit environmental law charity ClientEarth, which is also a partner of HAC, said: “Fine particulate matter is one of the most harmful pollutants there is – even at very low concentrations.

"The government has so far refused to commit to setting legal limits for this pollutant in line with WHO recommendations, despite broad agreement from health experts and parliamentarians across all parties that this is essential to protect people’s health. The vote in the House of Lords clearly shows that peers do not believe that the Bill does enough as it stands to protect people from toxic air. It’s nothing short of a rebuke.”

UK legal limits for PM2.5 are currently double what the WHO recommends. Last month it was revealed in the British Journal of Psychiatry that exposure to traffic-related air pollution is associated with increased mental health service use among people recently diagnosed with psychotic and mood disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

The amendment was welcomed by clean-air campaigner Tim Smedley, author of Clearing the Air: the Beginning and the End of Air Pollution (Bloomsbury Books, 2020). He told EHN: “This vote finally calls time on the government to start backing up its words on air pollution with actions. Michael Gove promised an Environment Bill with WHO legal limits back in 2019, only for the government to quietly drop them on the Bill’s first reading.

“My fear is that ‘by 2030’ will be used as another excuse to kick the can further down the road. Any binding targets need to be coupled with immediate action plans, and I would ideally like to see that within the wording. WHO limits will save lives, but the government will try to shelve them again if we don't keep up the pressure,” he said.

CIEH President Julie Barratt added: “This vote is a real success for all those organisations campaigning to improve air quality across the nation. Although we welcome the ambition expressed by the UK government in relation to the Environment Bill, we want to see some tangible and binding targets set.

“There is a broad appreciation of the need to tackle the growing issue of poor air quality in our country and the government must use this opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to safeguarding our health and our environment.

The Bill is expected to complete its passage through the House of Lords this month and then return to the Commons where MPs will consider all the new amendments. 

“We will continue to campaign alongside our partner organisations in the HAC to call on MPs to uphold this amendment when the Bill returns to the House of Commons,” Barratt said.

As an active advocate for environmental health at the UK Parliament, CIEH has also been working with MPs to amend the Health and Care Bill.

 

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