UK government plans to tackle illegal air pollution ‘lack urgency’

The environmental law group ClientEarth has described the UK government’s plans to tackle air pollution and emissions from vehicles as lacking in urgency.

Announced last week, the proposals include a ban on new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040, as well as a requirement for local authorities to devise plans to improve air quality.

However, they have been criticised for not penalising drivers of the most heavily polluting vehicles, and are seen as a diversionary tactic, failing to address the problem at its root.

“The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ own evidence shows that charging clean air zones would be the swiftest way to tackle illegal levels of pollution,” ClientEarth CEO, James Thornton, said.

“Yet the government is passing the buck to local authorities to come up with their own schemes as an alternative to clean air zones which charge the most polluting vehicles to enter our towns and cities.

“This is little more than a shabby rewrite of the previous draft plans and is underwhelming and lacking in urgency.”

The government says that poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, and that NO2 levels in the air are above legal limits in almost 90% of urban areas.

This is estimated to be responsible for approximately 23,500 early deaths in the UK each year, and cost the country £2.7bn through its impact on productivity.

Last week’s proposals include £255m in provision to help towns and cities implement plans to improve air quality, allowing them to bid for money from a new Clean Air Fund.

This could include changing road layouts, removing traffic lights and speed humps or upgrading bus fleets, while the government will also issue a consultation to gather views from those affected.

“We are determined to deliver a green revolution in transport and reduce pollution in our towns and cities,” Transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said.

“We are taking bold action and want nearly every car and van on UK roads to be zero emission by 2050.”

The government will publish a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy next year to address other sources of air pollution.


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