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Post-Brexit delay on air quality standards condemns more London children to breathing toxic air


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inisters were accused on Tuesday of condemning another generation of children to breathing toxic air in London and other parts of Britain by setting a target to tackle it only by 2040.

MPs in the capital called for the proposed timescale to be sped up by a decade to cut levels of tiny PM2.5 particulate pollution which scientists say is particularly harmful to human health.

They spoke out after the Government failed to announce a series of new post-Brexit eco-targets by the deadline of October 31 as set by the Environment Act 2021.

The Government’s own watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, has criticised the delay and also warned that some of the targets are too weak, including on toxic air.

Ministers insisted when Britain quit the European Union that environmental standards would not be watered down.

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But they are proposing an annual mean concentration target for PM2.5 of no more than 10 micrograms per cubic metre (µg m-3) to be met across England by 2040.

The European Union has laid out plans for this goal to be reached by 2030.

Clean air lawyer Katie Nield, from the ClientEarth charity, said: “If ministers set and then actually meet the targets they’re suggesting, we’re still looking at another 18 years breathing dangerously dirty air.

“Children born today will reach adulthood before the Government would be legally bound to deliver cleaner air, with the impacts of early exposure to dirty air locking in health compromises for the rest of their lives.”

She stressed: “As it stands, yet another generation of children will be failed by governmental lethargy on tackling air pollution.

“Ministers need to seriously reconsider their proposal and commit to a 2030 deadline, in line with what the science says is possible and the world’s top health experts say is acceptable.”

ClientEarth successfully took the Government to court over previous failures to deliver proper plans to address toxic air.

London MPs backed the calls for swifter progress to be mandated on reducing air pollution of fine particulate PM2.5 matter, which is far smaller than the width of human hair and is so harmful as it can seep deep into people’s lungs and into their bloodstream, contributing to heart disease and breathing illnesses.

Hampstead and Kilburn Labour MP Tulip Siddiq said: “Despite strong action from the Mayor here in London, central Government action is required and their current targets are not strong enough.”

Twickenham Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson added: “With almost every school in the city stuck with unsafe levels of air pollution, it is shocking that the Government’s plans are still up in the air and so weak.”

Cities of London and Westminster Conservative MP Nickie Aiken stressed: “Of course I would like to achieve this very important goal by 2030 but it’s not just down to the Government.

“This is much more of a local issue which needs councils and the Mayor of London to focus on.”

Tooting Labour MP and hospital doctor Rosena Allin-Khan said: “In A&E, I am seeing more and more people coming in with issues related to the poor air quality in London.”

The Office for Environmental Protection is calling for the PM2.5 target to be brought forward to 2030 from the proposed date of 2040.

“The government’s analysis shows that except for a few isolated hotspots in London, all areas of the country could comply with 10 μg/m3 by 2030 under the ‘high ambition’ scenario,” it said in its submission to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) consulation on the eco-targets.

“This is validated through independent analysis by Imperial College London which forecast 99.8 per cent of areas complying by 2030 through implementation of business-as-usual policies.

“We accept that localised hotspots may require special measures to deliver against the 2030 target date.”

These hotspots include major roads in London and localised industrial biomass burning emissions.

To meet the target would require action across a range of sectors, particularly manufacturing industries, construction, domestic combustion, and road transport. the OfEP added.

The Government consultation document in May 2022 proposed two PM2.5 targets.

They are:

An annual Mean Concentration Target of 10 micrograms per cubic metre (µg m-3) to be met across England by 2040.Population Exposure Reduction Target – a 35 per cent reduction in population exposure by 2040 (compared to a base year of 2018)

The document stated: “Reducing PM2.5 to meet these ambitious targets will have a significant benefit on health. A reduction in population exposure in England of just 1 µgm-3 could prevent an estimated 50,000 cases of coronary heart disease, 16,500 strokes, 9,000 cases of asthma and 4,000 lung cancers over 18 years.

“These targets will also reduce health inequalities and contribute to levelling up objectives. Currently, areas of high deprivation tend to have greater exposure to PM2.5.”

A Defra spokesman said: “Air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010 – at a national level emissions of fine particulate matter have fallen by 18 per cent, while emissions of nitrogen oxides are at their lowest level since records began.

“We remain firmly committed to reducing air pollution on a national scale but we are legally required to set targets that are achievable across the whole country.

“Our evidence shows that with the appropriate action, we can drive down PM2.5 to below 10 micrograms in most of the country by 2030. We have proposed targets for 2040 because this is when our evidence shows this can be achieved everywhere, whilst avoiding placing disproportionate costs on individuals and businesses.”

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