Health impacts of all air pollutants cost the UK economy some £15-20 billion a year

MPs call for more clean air zones across the UK

There are a sobering 40,000 to 50,000 early deaths a year in the UK due to cardiac, respiratory and other diseases that are linked to air pollution.

In an effort to combat those early deaths, the Commons environment committee has called for more cities to given power to launch clean air zones (hat-tip BBC).

Last year, DEFRA unveiled a plan to allow a limited number of cities to charge old polluting diesel vehicles – including old buses, coaches, taxis and lorries – to discourage them from using city centres in Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby. London already has a more wide ranging Congestion Charge that affects private cars too. 

The enviroment committee has said DEFRA’s plans don’t go far enough and more cities should be given power to curb the most polluting vehicles from central areas. It was damning of current policy: "Despite mounting evidence of the costly health and environmental impacts of air pollution, we see little evidence of a cohesive cross-government plan to tackle emissions. The Cabinet Office must establish clearly with all government departments their duty to consider air quality in developing policies.

"Furthermore, Ministers must tell the public more clearly how it is co-ordinating action since the work of the inter-ministerial Clean Growth Group is opaque; we recommend that the Cabinet Office report to Parliament before 21 July 2016 on the actions it plans over the coming year to join up effective action across government."

The committee recommended that DEFRA puts together a comprehensive strategy for improving air quality by the end of the year, with annual reports to Parliament on progress in delivering its objectives.

The committee report added: "Scientific evidence has been mounting for a number of years on the impacts of air pollutants on people’s health. The harmful impacts of pollution from diesel in particular have been more definitively determined; in 2012 the World Health Organisation (WHO) unequivocally classified it a carcinogen. Health impacts of all air pollutants cost the UK economy some £15-20 billion a year. More importantly many thousands of people bear the human costs associated with damaged cardiac and respiratory systems and life-limiting diseases."

The committee summarised: "The Government must accord poor air quality a priority commensurate with the toll on the nation’s health and environment.

"Emission reduction targets must be based on scientific evidence and strategies for pollution reduction based on effective cost-benefit analyses. Ministers must set out with absolute clarity the actions required across government if the public is to be reassured that the Government is committed to improving air quality quickly and substantially."

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