CIEH disappointed by scope and ambition of UK Government’s air quality targets

17 March 2022, Heidi Douglas-Osborn

CIEH has welcomed the public consultation from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), however is disappointed by the limited scope and ambition of the targets proposed.

The consultation proposes two targets for air pollution:

  • The concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution of 10 micrograms per cubic metre will be met by 2040 – this is equivalent to the old 2005 World Health Organisation guideline for PM2.5.
  • A 35% reduction in population exposure to PM2.5 by 2040 (compared to a base year of 2018).

The WHO has found that air pollution inflicts damage on human health, with an estimated 7 million premature deaths caused by exposure to air pollution. Last year, the WHO updated its Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs), recommending that the concentration limit for PM2.5 should be halved from 10 to 5 micrograms per cubic metre of air (mcg/m3).

There is no information provided on possible interim targets or any additional targets for any other harmful pollutants, which are key to improving air quality. High levels of particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide are the top reasons for the introduction of the majority of Air Quality Management Areas across the UK.

The Environment Act 2021 requires the government to set at least one long-term target in each of the following areas: air quality; water; biodiversity; and resources efficiency and waste reduction. It also requires targets to be set for PM2.5 and species abundance. The government set out its approach in 2020 in their policy paper: Environment Bill – environmental targets. These targets need to be laid as draft Statutory Instruments by 31 October 2022. The consultation closes on 11 May 2022.

CIEH has been working as part of the Healthy Air Campaign (HAC) coalition of charities and public health organisations to amend the Environment Act to include the government’s commitment to meeting the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2005 guidelines for PM2.5 air pollution by 2030 at the latest. This amendment to the Environment Act was agreed in the House of Lords but was later rejected by the Government.

CIEH will be releasing an air quality survey to its members soon and will be using views collected to inform its response to the consultation.

Dr Phil James, Chief Executive at CIEH said:

“We are disappointed at the Government’s target on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to be halved by 2040, is ten years later than we have been campaigning for. This delayed approach is, in our view, a failure to protect public health.

The 2021 WHO guidelines highlighted how harmful air quality is to human health. The proposed target aims for the old 2005 World Health Organisation guideline on the pollutant rather than aiming for 2021 guideline published last year, which is disappointing.

We would like to see more detail on interim steps to achieve the long-term targets and some additional targets set for some of the other harmful pollutants.

We will take this consultation as an opportunity to lobby the Government on the importance of these public protections and campaign to make sure that its planned targets are set at an ambitious level to match WHO guidelines and protect public health.”

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