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Labour’s Clean Air Act

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2024

The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,

Declares that clean air should be a fundamental human right and has the potential to save millions of lives; notes that Labour’s Clean Air Act would establish a legal right for citizens to breathe clean air and abide by World Health Organisation clean air guidelines; further declares that Labour’s Clean Air Act would place tough new duties on Ministers to ensure air quality guidelines are met to bring in accountability for the Government; and further declares that Labour’s Clean Air Act would grant new powers to local authorities to allow them to take urgent action on air quality.

The petitioners therefore request the House of Commons to urge the Government to formally enact Labour’s Clean Air Act and take further steps to address the air pollution national health emergency in the UK.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Afzal Khan, Official Report, 31 January 2024; Vol. 744, c. 953.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Steve Barclay):

The Government would like to thank the petitioners for raising the issue of air quality and the impact of air pollution on public health.

The UK is compliant with its 2020 domestic and international emission reduction commitments. This includes emissions of ammonia (with the inclusion of an approved adjustment), NMVOCs—non-methane volatile organic compounds—nitrogen oxides, PM2.5 and sulphur dioxide.

There remain a number of isolated NO2 limit value exceedances, which is why Government have committed £883 million of funding under the NO2 programme to bring these locations into compliance in the shortest possible time.

Latest published figures (up to the year 2022) show that emissions of most air pollutants for which we have reduction targets have reduced significantly from 2010 to 2022, with emissions of nitrogen oxides down by 48%, sulphur dioxide down 74%, non-methane volatile organic compounds down 19%, fine particulate matter down 24%, and ammonia remaining stable (-1% change).

However, the Government absolutely recognise that there is more to do to protect people and the environment from the effects of air pollution, including from transport, wood burning, industry and agriculture. This is why we are taking the significant and wide-ranging action to drive improvements to air quality as set out in our Environmental Improvement Plan 2023, which includes:

Preparing to consult on improving our regulatory framework for industrial emissions to better reflect our priorities for the environment and to support businesses in innovating and delivering net zero.

Reducing ammonia emissions by using incentives in our new farming schemes.

Challenging local authorities to improve air quality more quickly by assessing their performance and use of existing powers, while supporting them with clear guidance, funding, and tools.

Continuing our review of how we can improve air quality communications to the public.

This action is supported by the Environment Act 2021, which, among other important measures, makes sure that local authorities have the necessary powers to tackle emissions collaboratively in their local area to improve air quality. Since 2010 we have awarded more than £53 million to English local authorities through the annual Air Quality Grant scheme to support delivery of more than 500 local projects to deliver targeted pollution reduction measures in their area. As a result of our collaboration with local authorities, they have access to a wide range of options as they develop plans to address roadside pollution in a way that meets the needs of their communities, both pedestrians and road users.

We have also set two ambitious new targets for fine particulate matter under the Act: a maximum annual mean concentration of 10 µg m-3 by 2040, and a population exposure reduction target of 35% by 2040 compared to 2018. We have focused new targets on fine particulate matter, as it is the pollutant which causes the most harm to human health. Our dual target approach will improve public health by tackling areas where concentrations are highest, as well as driving action to reduce exposure for all, maximising public health benefit. We have followed an evidence-based process, working with internationally recognised experts, to set air quality targets that are stretching, achievable and specific to our national circumstances.

As part of our commitment to tackling the health impacts of air pollution, the Government have funded a series of pilot projects that investigate how health professionals can effectively deliver air quality information to patients and carers through a ‘Clean Air Champions’ model, with the latest project involving recruitment of a cohort of 40 GPs across the UK.

The Government also make a wide range of information available to the public through the UK-AIR website, including forecasting, the latest local measurements from our nationwide monitoring networks, and health advice informed by the work of the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants. We are working with the Department of Health and Social Care and the UK Health Security Agency to undertake a comprehensive review of how we communicate air quality information to the public to ensure that people, and vulnerable groups in particular, have the information they need to protect themselves and understand their impact on air quality.

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact the Secretary of State about this important issue. I hope you are reassured that the Government are committed to tackling air pollution, and that action is already being taken at both national and local levels to ensure that our air is safer to breathe for all.