Campaigning for a breath of fresh air

Good air quality is a basic determinant of health. However, over 600 Air Quality Management Areas exist where pollutant levels exceed UK legislative standards and some of these standards are set at twice the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) acceptable levels.

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 need to see a Bill that has tangible, realistic, but ambitious, plans to improve air quality. So far, the Government has simply not done enough to address this growing crisis. We have also called strongly for the OEP to be truly independent of government, and to have real teeth so that it can protect our environment.

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've also been building alliances with other campaigning organisations, such as Client Earth and the Healthy Air Campaign.

This year, we are responding to three key consultations by DEFRA, which follow on from the changes brought about by the Environment Act 2021. The first of these is around setting ambitious long-term targets for air quality. The second is focused on updating the roles and responsibilities of local authorities and the third is a proposal to ensure that Highways England plays a role in the delivery of local air quality plans.

We're working closely with our members to ensure that their voices are heard and that CIEH is at the centre of efforts to ensure that air quality continues to improve across the UK and to ensure that local authorities have the resources they need to fulfil their duties.

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. Last year, we also responded to the consultation by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: A Clean Air Strategy for Northern Ireland.

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.

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