Campaigning for a breath of fresh air
Good air quality is a basic determinant of health. However, in 2023 government Ministers confirmed that up to 43,000 deaths per year were attributable to PM2.5, a major pollutant which significantly contributes to poor air quality, and the UK Health and Security Agency has cited air pollution as the largest environmental risk to public health.
This is why we are campaigning for better air quality for all.
What are we doing?
CIEH has been consistently engaging widely across the nations to push this issue to the top of the government agenda.
Over the last few years, we campaigned hard around the Government's flagship Environment Bill, which is the first of its kind for over 20 years. We focussed on two key elements of the Bill - air quality, and the proposed new Office of Environmental Protection (OEP). We demanded the UK Government introduced more ambitious targets for reducing emissions of PM2.5, among other pollutants, and have met with the Chief Medical Officer to talk about the need to widen the discourse on air quality to include domestic wood burning and agricultural activity. So far, the Government has simply not done enough to address this growing crisis.
We've been working closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to get the views of our members to the heart of government, and to feed into their consultations and roundtables with stakeholders. We have worked closely with colleagues at the Association of Directors of Public Health, and the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport in emphasising the integrated way in which air quality impacts local authorities and public health. We’ve secured opportunities for CIEH representatives to give evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee on indoor and outdoor air quality targets and have been building alliances with other campaigning organisations, such as Client Earth, the Nitrogen Collaboration and the Healthy Air Campaign.
This year, we responded to two key consultations which impact upon air quality. The first of these was from DLUHC around proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework. The second was Defra's Draft Air Quality Strategy which focused on the roles and responsibilities of local authorities.
We provided written evidence to the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Senedd Committee on the recently tabled Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill. We also secured the opportunity for a number of our members to provide oral evidence to the committee and provided written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee on indoor and outdoor air quality targets, securing the opportunity for one of our members to provide oral evidence to this committee as well.
Beyond this, in 2022 we responded to the Draft National Air Pollution Control Programme consultation as well as to Defra’s consultation on Environmental Targets. In 2021, we responded to the consultation by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: A Clean Air Strategy for Northern Ireland. In 2020, we made a submission to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Parliamentary Committee inquiry into air quality and also to the Air Quality Expert Group at Defra to inform their estimation of changes in air pollution emissions, concentrations and exposure during the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK.
We're working hard to make sure that CIEH is at the centre of efforts to improve air quality across the UK. We work closely with our members to ensure that their voices are heard and that local authorities have the resources they need to fulfil their duties.
Why is it so important?
Evidence shows that poor air quality contributes to illnesses such as cancer, stroke, asthma and heart disease, and there are strong associations with chronic conditions such as obesity, dementia and diabetes. These chronic conditions are on the rise in the UK, and it’s the most vulnerable in our society – such as children and the elderly – that are at the most risk.
The Department of Health’s Committee on the Medical Aspects of Air Pollution has reported that long-term exposure to poor air quality currently causes as many as 40,000 additional deaths per year – a figure that we find unacceptable. And with air quality having the highest impact on lower socio-economic groups, we believe that air quality is a matter of social justice.