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'Once in a lifetime' opportunity to reduce pollution

12 June 2020

Air pollution is the largest environmental risk to UK public health. A cross-party group of MPs are to explore whether the COVID-19 pandemic can act as a catalyst for change.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee today launches an inquiry into Air Quality. With concerns already raised about whether discouraging the use of public transport will lead to more cars on the road and levels of air pollution exceeding pre-lockdown levels, the Committee will scrutinise whether the Government's 2019 Clean Air Strategy and the Environment Bill will deliver the national leadership needed to urgently tackle the UK's poor air quality.
 
In 2018, four Select Committees including EFRA made a number of recommendations to Government in its Improving Air Quality report. Since then, emerging research has suggested poor air quality may be linked to higher death and infection rates from COVID-19. Poor air quality has also been shown to disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities; costing the UK £20 billion and 40,000 lives per year.
 
The Committee will also address the delay in the rollout of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) as a result of the pandemic and some towns and cities' plans to enable people to walk and cycle as the lockdown is eased.

Send us your views

Deadline: 7 August 2020

The Committee is seeking written evidence on the following questions.

Did the UK Government's 2019 Air Quality Strategy set out an effective and deliverable strategy to tackle the UK's poor air quality and address the issues raised in our 2018 report? Has the UK Government put in place the necessary structures and resources to deliver its strategy?

Will the Environment Bill provide England with a robust legal framework to define and enforce air quality limits?

What progress had the UK Government made on reducing air pollution and enforcing legal pollution limits before the Covid-19 pandemic?

What does the early evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic say about the impact of poor air quality on health, and health inequalities for disadvantaged communities and other at-risk groups, and possible policy responses?

What are the current and emerging risks and opportunities for air quality posed by:

  • Short-term policy and societal changes in response to the pandemic, for example changes to transport to reduce the risk of transmission, and;
  • Medium and long-term actions to promote economic recovery.

Chair's comment

Chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP, said:

“In the UK, there are roughly 40,000 early deaths each year linked to outdoor air pollution. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, this issue was vastly overlooked. It has now been two years since we called on the Government to urgently address this crisis. Since then, we've seen the introduction of a new Clean Air Strategy and Environment Bill, but it's crucial that these frameworks are both enforceable and ambitious. 
 
Disadvantaged communities are affected far worse by air pollution than anyone else and recently we've seen just how serious underlying health problems can be. The pandemic is threatening to push back some of the crucial work planned for addressing poor air quality, when it is clear that it should instead be a once-in-a-lifetime catalyst for action. 
 
Therefore we are launching a new inquiry into Air Quality. As we are encouraged to walk and cycle more in the 'new normal' we have a rare opportunity to build policies which decrease air pollution, save the NHS billions, and benefit everyone.”

Further information

Image: Unsplash