ClientEarth responds to government figures on air pollution

By agency reporter
October 4, 2019

This week, Government published their latest figures on air pollution data for across the country. The data reveal that 83 per cent of reporting zones still have illegal levels of air pollution. This demonstrates how the UK government has made almost no progress in meeting legal obligations that should have been met in 2010.

These statistics are released as part of a legal requirement under the EU Ambient Air Quality directive. All EU member states must report on levels of a number of pollutants to the European Commission. In the UK we are failing to meet legal limits of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution: where the annual average concentration level cannot exceed 40µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre of air).

Air pollution affects the health and quality of life of people across the UK. In fact, it has been estimated that air pollution causes the equivalent of 40,000 early deaths every year. Yet the latest 2018 data show there has been almost no progress in meeting legal limits of air pollution in the UK.

Compared to 2017 levels, only one additional zone came into compliance in 2018 – Birkenhead Urban Area, which includes Cheshire West and Chester Council and Wirral Metropolitan Council.

Greater London, South Wales and Glasgow are the zones with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in the UK.

Andrea Lee, Clean Air Campaigns and Policy Manager  of the legal and environmental charity ClientEarth, said: “Almost ten years after legal limits should have been met, it is astounding that only seven out of 43 zones have legal levels of air pollution. This is not simply a failure by the government to comply with its legal duties but, most importantly, it is a failure to protect the health of people across the country from toxic air.”

Air pollution is a huge national problem but it can be solved, says ClientEarth. The organisation has taken the UK government to court three times and won over their failure to protect the UK public from toxic air pollution. These court wins forced the government to produce new air quality plans. But the government is not acting fast enough. There is still more to be done.

The government’s approach to tackling the crisis was to direct local councils to reduce air a pollution to within the legal limit within the shortest possible time. But this has mostly led to delays and weak proposals as local authorities lack the resources, capacity and leadership to get to grip with the problem.

Andrea Lee added: “Local authorities clearly cannot deal with this matter on their own. We need leadership and action on a national scale. The government needs to sort this mess and act urgently to tackle this public health crisis. This needs to start with new clean air laws in the upcoming Environment Bill.”

* More about ClientEarth's work on campaigning for clean air in the UK and across Europe here

* ClientEarth works to protect the environment through advocacy, litigation and science


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.