Air Clean Up

  • UK Makes 'Almost No Progress' with Air Pollution

UK Makes 'Almost No Progress' with Air Pollution

Oct 12 2019 Read 604 Times

The UK government has once again come under fire for its environmental performance after publishing its latest figures regarding air quality across the country. The results show that in terms of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations, the nation has made very little progress since 2010, when the EU introduced its Ambient Air Quality directive for the first time.

Under that law, all member states were required to ensure that the average concentrations of NO2 over the year in any part of the country could not exceed 40µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre). However, the government’s analysis reveals that the majority of zones tested exceeded the legal thresholds, with London over double the maximum amount allowed by EU law.

A damning picture

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published the figures last week, in accordance with their legal obligations under the Ambient Air Quality directive. Thanks to sophisticated new methods of monitoring contaminants, we are now able to gain a clearer picture than ever before of the size of the challenge facing us in terms of air pollution – and the results are not encouraging.

Despite the fact that the legislation came into effect almost a decade out, 36 out of the 43 zones monitored for air quality failed to creep under the 40µg/m3 threshold, meaning that a whopping 83% of areas in Britain have dangerously high levels of NO2. Indeed, the Greater London Urban Area suffered from year-round average concentrations of 89µg/m3, which is over two times the legal limit as imposed by the EU.

At the other end of the scale, Scotland boasted the cleanest regions, with the Highlands (26µg/m3 or 0.7 times the threshold) and the Borders (30µg/m3 or 0.8 times the threshold) two of only seven zones which came in under target. However, the same couldn’t be said of everywhere north of the border, with Glasgow the 4th most populated zone tested at 61µg/m3 or 1.5 times the threshold.

Not a leg to stand on

The results have been widely condemned from concerned environmentalists and opposition politicians. Most notably, environmental law firm ClientEarth have once again sounded their dissatisfaction with the incumbent ruling party, having already successfully taken the Conservatives to court on numerous occasions.

They were particularly critical of the government’s strategy to delegate air pollution clean-up initiatives to regional councils, pointing out that the technique has only created delays, confusion and failed proposals because the latter simply do not have the resources available to adequately tackle the challenges facing them.

“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,” said Andrea Lee, policy manager of ClientEarth’s clean air campaigns division. “This needs to start with new clean air laws in the upcoming Environment Bill.”

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