Government 'failing to demonstrate ambition' on clean air targets
24 April 2021
EFRA Committee call on Government to increase urgency and ambition of objectives for air quality.
Despite clear recommendations, the Government has ignored calls to change its Environment Bill to tackle vast health inequalities exacerbated by air pollution. In its response, published today, to the EFRA Committee's February Air Quality report, the Government failed to agree to set more stringent targets for the pollutant PM2.5 in line with the World Health Organisation’s standards, which was supported on Wednesday by an independent coroner's report into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah.
The response furthermore fails to address setting targets for levels of other pollutants including NO2 and ammonia, instead relying on existing international commitments which, the report found, would not ensure adequate process. With poor air quality proven to be the biggest environmental health issue facing the UK linked to an estimated 64,000 deaths a year, the Committee is disappointed in the lack of urgency and accountability shown by the Government's response. The Government has also failed to commit to new targets to tackle the longstanding health inequalities caused by air pollution which the covid-19 pandemic brought into stark relief.
The report also raised concerns that the new Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) would lack the powers to enforce new targets. While the response assures the Committee that the OEP will have sufficient authority, the Committee is concerned that the lack of clear legal targets will mean the OEP will not have meaningful benchmarks to hold the Government to account against.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said:
"The Government has this week, rightly, demonstrated its willingness to set strong and stretching targets to tackle carbon emissions. It needs to act with similar ambition on air quality. This is one of the most pressing issues facing our society; every year, thousands of deaths are linked to poor air quality.
"The problem will only get worse if the Government ignores the extent and urgency of this health crisis. Its disappointing response ignores the most important recommendations set out in our report, but we hope that the Environment Bill will still be amended to set more stringent targets for tackling pollutants. We will now be calling for a debate as soon as possible to hold Ministers' feet to the fire.”