APPG on Air Pollution: responding to the guideline consultation

Tuesday 7 June 2022, 9.30-10.30am

The APPG on Air Pollution held a roundtable discussion over Zoom on the topic of ‘Responding to the guideline consultation’.

  • Geraint Davies MP, Chair
  • Professor Frank Kelly (Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health at Imperial College London)
  • Tim Dexer, Campaigns Manager, Asthma + Lung UK
  • Rahat Siddique, Senior Economist, CBI Economics
  • Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, Co-Founder of The Ella Roberta Family Foundation

Professor Frank Kelly

Work undertaken by the Environmental Research Group has shown that with current policies in place, the UK will likely achieve the WHO 10. µg/m3 for PM2.5 target by 2030 if a few further measures to accelerate mitigation of climate change are implemented. They argued that the Government should move the current target of 2040 forward to 2030 to send a really serious message about tackling air quality and climate change.

Tim Dexer

Asthma + Lung UK is fighting for everybody’s right to breathe, regardless of where they live in the country. Tim spoke about how frightening it can be for people to lose control of their lungs as a result of air pollution. They surveyed 1,100 people and 60% said that air pollution made them feel breathless, 51% said it made them feel queasy, 43% said it made their symptoms flare up and 7.8% said they had been hospitalised due to high air pollution levels. Tim added that in their recent annual asthma survey for 77.4% of people with asthma over three quarters said air pollution affected their health and wellbeing. 

The targets set in the Environment Act are a chance to usher in a sea change to the way in which we tackle fine particulate matter pollution. Tim said that if ambitious targets are set now, then activity can be catalysed across heavy industry, transport and heating. But there is a risk that if the 2024 target is kept in place, then it will mean business as usual and a more challenging transition.

Outside of London, major improvements are needed to public transport to deliver the newest and cleanest technologies into these places and not simply more polluting vehicles. But as shown in Greater Manchester, you need the right political will and policy levers to deliver. 

Asthma + Lung UK has developed a tool to take people through the consultation and explain the technicalities around PM2.5 and what the target could achieve. They also have an Early Day Motion calling for the WHO-10 PM2.5 targets to be met by 2030, which was launched by Angela Eagle MP.

Rahat Siddique

In 2020, CBI Economics researched the economic and health benefits of meeting the WHO guidelines for air quality. Tackling air pollution is less likely to be seen as a cost than previously and the benefits to individuals and businesses are now being understood. The research found that a £1.6 billion economic benefit could be achieved across the UK if WHO PM2.5 guidelines are met. This could translate into about 300 million working days gained and a prevention of about premature 17,000 deaths.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah

The Ella Roberta Foundation will be responding to the consultation and has already expressed to the Government that 2040 is not ambitious enough. Since Rosamund’s daughter passed away and way before that, the number of children dying has continued to remain high. If the Government does not take PM2.5 seriously, then more children will die prematurely. Rosamund emphasised the need for the wider public to respond to the consultation so it demonstrates to the Government how important this is to the whole country.

Geraint Davies

Geraint argued that PM2.5 by 2030 is achievable on the basis of current government policy on tackling air pollution, but more robust policy needed in relation to wood burning stoves, which account for nearly 40% of urban air pollution. He added that progress is being made on electric cars.

The latest figures show that there are around 64,000 premature deaths per year from air pollution. It remains the biggest killer in the world. The Royal College of Physicians said that poor air quality was costing the world economy £20 billion a year.

Monitoring is key and Geraint spoke about the role of air quality monitors outside schools. Once people know that the air quality outside schools is dangerous, it will affect public opinion on the action needed. The cost of living crisis presents a challenge in implementing clean air policy.

Q&A discussion

In response to the question about whether the Government should do more to legislate controls on air pollutants, Frank Kelly said that we shouldn’t be burning any form of solid fuel in urban areas anymore. The other issue is gas, which is also bad for health. The Government is aiming to replace the gas network with hydrogen and heat pumps, which will help to improve our air quality and mitigate climate change.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah said that the cost of living would be a huge factor, especially during the winter months and a strong response was needed to this. The October energy price rise will make this particularly challenging.

Rahat Siddique argued that there needed to be an acceleration of energy efficiency and retrofitting houses that could save households about £500. Analysis done with the Clean Air Fund found that a 5mg reduction would have major impacts on the local economy and improve people’s health. This is often lost in the conversation so the tangible health and economic gains from action on air pollution need pushing more.

Tim Dexer said that the cost of living crisis is a massive concern for people with lung conditions because people with lung conditions tend to suffer from poor economic circumstances. Choosing to turn to wood burning is a major concern. A large number of middle class households are also wood burning as a lifestyle choice and that’s why the case for better education is important.

Geraint Davies MP said that Baroness Jenny Jones has a Clean Air Bill coming to the House of Lords and he will be supporting it. He added that the main challenge was moving forward on clean air in the context of the cost of living crisis. This underlined the need for more financial support for low income households, particularly some of the 2.5 million people who use wood burning stoves.

Professor Frank Kelly made the point that the Government has always been very upfront on wanting to tackle climate change, but this isn’t joined up with action to address air pollution. The double benefit of tackling both issues in sync needs promoting better.

Geraint Davies MP suggested that there is a tendency for people to see air pollution benefits as a side benefit from climate action to meet Net Zero targets. But there needs to be an emphasis on families being at risk from heart and lung health issues. They added that flexible working had enabled a reduction in air pollution on roads and streets.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah added that the health and economic arguments for a 2030 PM2.5 target needed pushing more. This meant reaching out to the wider public to ensure they understand the consultation and issues surrounding air pollution.

Rahat Siddique made the point that the health and economic impacts are not in conflict with each other, as shown during the pandemic. The benefits to local workers and businesses of working from home have been clear..

Tim Daxer said that air pollution is an issue that affects absolutely everybody because we are all breathing it in and we are all impacted by it – children, people with lung conditions, the elderly, and much more. And that is why it is vital to protect those vulnerable groups. The Government has indicated that it will be moving away from modelling towards monitoring on the system. Modelling is important because that’s the only way to understand how vulnerable groups are impacted by air pollution.

Geraint Davies MP thanked the panellists and everyone who attended. There will be more data coming out on the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and how we can reach Net Zero more quickly by achieving the 2030 target. He also encouraged everyone to submit their responses to the consultation, especially on achieving the PM2.5 target by 2030.