The slow drive for better air quality

At long last it’s starting to happen, but so, so slowly – general recognition of our right to breathe clean air and that we are not able to do so. Our air quality is illegal; our air quality is killing people – 40,000 early deaths every year. Here in London, which falls way down the air quality league table of European capital cities, the main contributor to pollution is transport.


The pressure started with Client Earth, whose UK offices are in Hackney, successfully taking the UK government to court over illegal levels of air pollution. The government fought them, and lost, three times. Client Earth information obtained through a Freedom of Information request estimates that the UK government has spent up to £500,000 in the courts “trying to dodge its duty to tackle illegal and harmful levels of air pollution.” There are many better ways they could have spent it.


This month a much-delayed EU ruling was finally made, after being postponed several times, and the UK has been referred to the European Court of Justice for breaching long-standing EU air quality standards. Further emphasis to our government that they are failing their people.


The recognition of our poor air quality is there – but that is not enough. It has to be acted on.


The government responses, so far, are lacking: no action, just more consultations. The latest consultation is for a Clean Air Strategy to meet the amended terms of the Gothenburg Protocol on air pollution, agreed by the UN back in 2012 for reductions to be made by 2020 – just under two years away. The consultation document has been published today, with the final Strategy and National Pollution Programme to be published by March 2019 – yet more delay. Meanwhile, people will keep on dying.


Client Earth: UK government spend defending inaction on air quality

Defra Clean Air Strategy consultation document

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