The APPG on Air Pollution held a virtual roundtable which brought together local leaders and MPs to explore the limitations of the current air quality policy framework as well as what could be done nationally to enable local authorities to improve air quality for their communities.
Local leaders have been taking ambitious action to improve air quality, including introducing an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London which has led air pollution to reduce by around a third, and introducing a Clean Air Zone in York which enabled York to meet its air quality targets and led diesel buses to be replaced by an electric fleet.
However, local leaders do not have sufficient powers or resources to sufficiently tackle air pollution in their localities, as they do not have the powers to address many of the sources of air pollution, such as banning wood burning stoves, or enough funding to transition their communities to low-carbon transportation.
This meeting explored the gaps in existing policy that governs action on air quality including the Clean Air Zone Framework and the Local Air Quality Management Framework, and how the policy framework could be improved to give local leaders the agency to seriously tackle air pollution for their communities.
Speakers included Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport & Environment at Birmingham City Council; Councillor Sarah Warren, Cabinet Member for Climate and Sustainable Travel at Bath and North East Somerset Council and Tom Parkes, Senior Air Quality Officer at the London Borough of Camden.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Air Pollution hosted a panel discussion event with Global Action Plan on national Clean Air Day, June 17, titled ‘Protecting Children’s Health from Air Pollution’.
Worldwide, 127,000 children under the age of five die because of toxic air, but the UK is the first country to have air pollution included on a death certificate following the inquest of Ella Kissi-Debrah, led by mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah. In light of the coroner’s ‘Report to prevent future deaths’, which the government was due to respond to on Clean Air Day, this special event takes a look at how we can protect the health of the UK’s children with a panel of campaigners and experts who are working towards cleaner air.
WATCH THE MEETING IN FULL:
Geraint Davies MP, Chair of the APPG, began the event by outlining the campaign which the APPG is part of that is calling upon the Government to introduce legally enforceable limits of particulate matter based upon World Health Organisation (WHO) standards on safe air quality.
Larissa Lockwood, Director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan, introduced us to Clean Air Day – the U.K’s largest air pollution campaign – with this event being held as part of a national day of action for clean air. She depicted the public health emergency of toxic air – with one in four children across the U.K breathing dangerously high levels of air pollution. She spoke about how the past year has highlighted that it is entirely possible for us to all breathe clean air, as a sudden drop in private car use led to safer streets, cleaner air and healthier lungs. She called for more government investment in walking, cycling and low-carbon public transport and for action to reduce the number of cars around schools and encouraged parents to walk their children to school, to reduce air pollution and improve children’s health. She encouraged everyone to take action to improve air quality, by reducing our number of journeys by car, walking or cycling where possible and contacting our MPs asking them to take action to improve air quality.
Destiny Boka Batesa, co-founder of Choked Up – a group of black and brown teenagers who live in highly polluted areas and are campaigning for cleaner air, noted how working-class and BAME communities generally live in areas with the worst air quality. They eloquently explained that this makes air pollution a crucial social justice issue and a form of environmental racism, as racial and social inequities lead to working-class and BAME people enduring the brunt of adverse health impacts from toxic air. They argued that communities of colour are being sidelined by the Government, as sufficient action is not being taken to address this racial disparity and health crisis. Choked Up has been calling upon the Mayor of London to improve air quality, including by cancelling Silvertown Tunnel, and Destiny encouraged everyone to ask their MPs and councillors to take action on air pollution and to spread awareness about this issue within our communities. They encouraged attendees to reach out to Choked Up with ideas for collaboration, actions and campaigning and to follow them on Twitter.
‘A key concept is environmental racism – people of colour in the Global North and the Global South are burdened with the worst impacts of climate change which all directly impact our health and yet we are the least responsible for causing climate change’ – Destiny Boka Batesa
Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, MRC Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology, UKRI Clean Air Champion and Special Advisor to the RCP on Air Quality, spoke next about how campaigners should draw attention to individual’s lived experiences of chronic health issues and reduced quality of life caused by air pollution, rather than focusing on scientific data, to gain support for urgent action on air pollution. He explored how children are among the groups most vulnerable to air pollution, as their organs are still developing and so can be most damaged by toxic pollutants. He highlighted that the most toxic air pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and ozone, are produced largely from human combustion of fossil fuels for energy, heat and transport. He pointed to concerning research showing that air pollution reduces fertility in both men and women by around 20% and that air pollution impairs the growth of fetuses, increases the risk of miscarriages and leads to babies being born with impaired lungs. Air pollution increases the risk of both respiratory diseases and heart conditions, and air pollution exposure in childhood reduces the connectivity of networks in the brain causing negative impacts on IQ and cognition. He emphasised that these impacts are irreversible, and the only way to address them is through urgently reducing air pollution. He encouraged medical professionals to use their trusted positions to call for urgent legislative action on air quality and to inform their patients about the dangers that toxic air poses to their health.
‘We have a human right to breathe clean air and we must fight for that’ – Stephen Holgate
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, Co-Founder and Executive Director, The Ella Roberta Family Foundation and World Health Organisation Advocate, Health and Air Quality spoke about the recently published coroner’s ‘Report to Prevent Further Deaths’. This report concluded that the main cause of death for Rosamund’s nine year old daughter Ella was air pollution, as she lived close to London’s busy South Circular road. Rosamund spoke about the tragic effects of this invisible killer, with an estimated 8.8 million people across the world dying prematurely due to air pollution. Rosamund explained that she has been meeting with members of the Government, calling upon them to implement the recommendation of the coroner’s report to introduce legally enforceable limits of particulate matter based upon WHO standards on air quality. She also called upon councils across the country to put air quality monitors in public places, to increase public awareness of air pollution. She argued that we must significantly reduce private car usage and ban wood in stoves and fire pits, to rapidly reduce toxic air pollutants and so prevent more children from dying.
‘I urge the Government to do something about this now, not next year, and don’t allow Ella to have died in vain … our children do not deserve this’ – Rosamund Kissi-Debrah
Councillor Adam Harrison, Cabinet Member for a Sustainable Camden at Camden Council, spoke about how Camden Council officially adopted WHO standards on air quality to galvanise action to improve air quality. They have designed a Clean Air Action Plan of how to meet these targets through holding discussions with residents and local businesses and institutions. They have launched a Clean Air for Camden Campaign, including three accessible documents for residents, the first on what people can do to clean up the air where they live, the second on what can be done within the workplace to improve air quality, and the third on what schools can do to make their air safer. Adam spoke about how successful their traffic ward to combat idling has been improving air quality, but explained that in other areas the council doesn’t have the powers or funding to reduce air pollution. The council doesn’t have the power or funding to tackle the issue of wood-burning stoves which release toxic pollutants. Many homes are not connected to the national grid and so rely on wood-burning. He recommended that other local councils follow their example and respond to the coroner’s report by producing a set of actions to improve air quality.
‘What we need is for national Government to ban wood burning in urban areas, give local councils the powers and funding to be able to deal with this and roll out a program for houses that are not on the grid and provide them with heat pumps’ – Adam Harrison
Geraint closed by urging people to email or meet with their MPs asking them to support the amendments to the Environment Bill that support cleaner air, most importantly World Health Organisation (WHO) standards on safe air quality. The British Lung Foundation’s tool for emailing MPs about this can be found here.
The Environment Bill is currently in committee stage of the Lords. submitted in the Lords when this is voted upon in the Commons, to introduce legally enforceable limits of particulate matter based upon
Around 36,000 people die from air pollution in the UK each year. Children are particularly vulnerable since toxic air stunts lung growth and exacerbates asthma. For Clean Air Day, The APPG on Air Pollution and Global Action Plan are bringing together those who are impacted by and campaigning against toxic air with presentations from:
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, Co-Founder and Executive Director, The Ella Roberta Family Foundation and World Health Organisation Advocate, Health and Air Quality
Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, MRC Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology, UKRI Clean Air Champion and Special Advisor to the RCP on Air Quality
Larissa Lockwood, Director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan
Nyeleti Brauer-Maxaeia, Co-Founder of Choked Up
Cllr Adam Harrison, Cabinet Member for a Sustainable Camden at Camden Council and UK100 spokesperson
The presentations will be followed by a Q&A. To join, register here
I’m looking forward to seeing you on Clean Air Day, Thursday 17th June at 9am.
Geraint Davies MP Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution
The All Party Parliamentary group (APPG) on Air Pollution brought together MPs with experts from the Committee on Climate Change, the DEFRA air quality review group and Asthma U.K, for an illuminating discussion on the relationships between air pollution, climate change and public health.
WATCH THE FULL MEETING HERE:
Geraint Davies, Chair of the APPG, emphasised the human cost of poor air quality, raising the example of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old who died from the health impacts of air pollution. Geraint noted the recently published coroner’s ‘Report to Prevent Further Deaths’, which concluded that air pollution was the main cause of Ella’s death, and recommended that the government introduce legally binding air pollution targets based on World Health Organisation (WHO) standards on safe levels of pollutants.
‘There was no dispute at the inquest that atmospheric air pollution is the cause of many thousand premature deaths every year in the UK. Delay in reducing the levels of atmospheric air pollution is the cause of avoidable deaths.’ [Coroner’s report]
Geraint Davies called for WHO standards for PM2.5 to be added into the Environment Bill, which is due to have its second reading in the Lords on 7 June 2021 following the second day of Report Stage in the Commons this week. Geraint also suggested that all government departments should have a requirement to address air pollution, as action needs to be taken on planning and neighbourhoods within local government, on transport’s high contribution to emissions and on public awareness of the health impacts of air pollution. He depicted the public health emergency posed by air pollution, with 64,000 people dying prematurely due primarily to air pollution each year, and with poor air quality contributing to the development of dementia and lung conditions, alongside stunting lung growth in unborn babies and children.
David Joffe, Head of Carbon Budgets at the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) welcomed the news that the government agreed to the CCC’s sixth carbon budget, requiring the U.K to reduce its emissions by 78 percent from levels in 1990 by 2035. He argued that both main mechanisms for achieving these reductions – reducing demand for carbon intensive activities and improving resource and energy efficiency, will hugely reduce the quantity of pollutants in the air that we all breathe.
Professor Claire Reeves, an atmospheric scientist and a member of the Defra Air Quality Review Group, spoke about a report which the group produced on the likely impacts of the CCC’s Net Zero pathway on future air quality. They examined the likely impacts of each action proposed by the CCC in terms of different pollutants, and found that significantly improved air quality would result from virtually all actions. One example that Claire examined was the impacts of hydrogen use. She explained that hydrogen produced through low-carbon powered electrolysis of water results in low emissions, whereas hydrogen produced via other methods can result in methane emissions. If hydrogen is used in combination with fuel cells, emissions are very low, but burning hydrogen in boilers or engines would produce similar levels of emissions of nitrogen oxides, which harm human health, as current fossil fuel combustion does.
‘The direct combustion of hydrogen in domestic gas boilers or in engines would likely lead to similar NOx emissions to current fossil fuel combustion’
Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma U.K and British Lung Foundation, stressed the need to reduce the number of fossil fuel powered vehicles to improve air quality. She emphasised the importance of encouraging and enabling people to use forms of active and public transport rather than cars, as we build back better from the pandemic. She spoke powerfully about how high levels of air pollution across the country is trapping people with lung conditions in their homes, as air pollution outdoors makes them struggle to breathe normally. Sarah argued that Public Health England should be actively raising awareness about this public health emergency, similarly to how they created public awareness of the adverse health impacts of tobacco, leading to government legislation to tackle this issue.
‘80 percent of people with a lung condition said that air pollution affects their health and wellbeing’
Jason Torrance, Assistant Chief Executive at UK100, spoke about how local authorities have been implementing clean air zones across the U.K, most notably the Ultra Low Emission Zone in London, which has been proven to cut levels of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide by a third. Jason shared insights gained by UK100 on policy areas that need government action and leadership, to enable local authorities to significantly reduce air pollution in their communities:
Making WHO standards on air quality into enforceable legal limits.
Providing finance for decarbonising transport and retrofitting homes in local authorities, ensuring that low-income groups are supported in this transition.
Devolving power to local authorities to enable them implement the changes required to rapidly transition to Net Zero.
Setting out a national clean air strategy.
Jason further suggested that the government should redirect spending away from programmes like the £27 billion road building programme which will significantly increase emissions, and towards programmes reducing emissions from transport.
A key takeaway from the event was the importance of making WHO standards on air quality into enforceable legal limits, to drive action across government departments on improving our air quality, which the APPG on Air Pollution is campaigning to be included in the Environment Bill.
The AGM of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution was held on 29 April 2021. The APPG members who were present included Geraint Davies, Barry Sheerman, Karen Buck, John McNally, Chris Evans, Beth Winters. Geraint Davies MP was re-elected as chair of the APPG and the following Parliamentarians were elected as Vice-Chairs of the APPG:
Dan Poulter MP
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Helen Hayes MP
Karen Buck MP
John McNally MP
Barry Sheerman MP
Follow us on @APPGairpoll on Twitter for updates about our campaigns and events and the latest news on air pollution.
Ahead of COP 26, delivering clean air will be an important driver and measure of environmental improvements and links directly with the government’s commitment to net zero. To discuss this further the meeting will include presentations from:
Dr. David Joffe, Head of Carbon Budgets, Climate Change Committee
Professor Claire Reeves, University of East Anglia, and member of the Air Quality Expert Group
Sarah Woolnough, CEO of the Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation
Jason Torrance, Assistant Executive Director at UK 100
The negative health impacts of air pollution on children are well documented and it’s therefore imperative we reduce their exposure to pollution. A logical place to start is by looking at schools, where they spend most of their time during the week.
The APPG has long been a supporter of campaigns to reduce young people’s exposure to air pollution, including banning idling outside of schools, using hedges and plants to improve air quality in playgrounds and supporting active travel to schools. The APPG was therefore delighted to host this special event on schools and air pollution.
WATCH THE MEETING IN FULL:
Geraint Davies, Chair of the APPG, said that a second lockdown in England gave a renewed opportunity to improve air quality. It should also provide a further incentive for parents and schools to work together to reduce the pollution in schools to ensure they are healthy and safe places for children to learn, noting the link between prevalence and severity of Coronavirus with air pollution. He said it was important that parents are given up-to-date information on pollution levels to inspire healthier choices for travelling to school each day, with the support of schools and local authorities. The government must also act by including World Health Organisation pollution guidelines and provisions for monitoring indoor air pollution in the Environment Bill. He urged for people to write to their MPs asking for them to support these amendments to the Bill.
Chris Large, Co-CEO at Global Action Plan, said that Air Quality is an environmental issue, health issue, societal issue and an economic challenge. The benefits of tackling air pollution range from better health, with fewer road accidents, reduces stressed, less loneliness etc. Global Action’s school’s framework therefore sets out ways to engage different groups to tackle air pollution. You can see his full presentation here.
Dr Luke Munford, University of Manchester, summarised academic literature that shows air pollution decreased executive functioning in primary school students and carried out a study on how different pollutants effected memory. You can see the full presentation here.
Sheila Watson, Deputy Director of Environment and Research, FIA Foundation, showed the outcomes of a project, which gave school-aged children evidence on air pollution emission to interrogate. It successfully gave young peoplea voice in the debate about car manufacturing and omissions. You can see the full presentation here.
Gemma McHenry, Project Manager, Philips Foundation, highlighted how The Clean Air for Schools partnership set-out to equip all schools across the UK and Ireland with the tools and knowledge to improve air quality. You can see the full presentation here.
Steve Marsland, Head Teacher, Russell Scott Primary, said that schools working together can make the changes needed for better air quality for children.
In light of evidence on the detrimental impacts of air pollution on children’s ability to learn, we will be exploring solutions to improve air quality and the role that schools, businesses as well as local and national authorities can all play. The meeting will include presentations from:
Chris Large Co-Ceo, Global Action Plan
Dr Luke Munford & Professor Martie Van Tongeren, University of Manchester
Sheila Watson, Deputy Director of Environment and Research, FIA Foundation
Gemma McHenry, Project Manager, Philips Foundation
Steve Marsland, Head Teacher, Russell Scott Primary
With a new Committee deadline for the Environment Bill set in December 21st, the APPG took the opportunity to have an in-depth look with Minister Rebecca Pow.
Guest panellists Professor Stephen Holgate, Royal College of Physicians special adviser on air quality and Professor Elouise Scotford, Environmental Law at UCL gave their analysis of the Bill for their distinct professional points of view.
WATCH THE MEETING IN FULL :
Geraint Davies, Chair of the APPG, opened the meeting by calling for legally binding targets that can protect public health, to protect the environment and to protect the economy by giving businesses regulatory framework.
Minister Rebecca Pow acknowledged thatair pollutionis the single greatest environmental risk to human health. The Environment Bill, she noted, is the biggest piece of legislation to come through the Houses of Parliament is around two decades. In its current draft the Bill sets a legal duty on government to set a legally binding target on fine particulate matter, which has the most significant impact on human health. It also sets a duty to set an additional long-term target on air pollution.
A new paper published in August sets out how the government will focus on reducing average population exposure, which Minister Pow said was an innovative approach. Minister Pow argued that adopting WHO guideline limits in the Bill would be too simplistic. Before setting the targets the government plan to launch a public consultation to inform their decision and MPs will have a chance to scrutinise the targets before they are set in secondary legislation.
Aside from the targets, Minister Pow noted the additional powers that would be given to local authorities, giving them a framework for tackling air pollution. One of these will ensure that information is shared across multiple levels of local government to help tackle pollution. It will also give local authorities the powers to take action to stop people repeatedly emitting smoke without the need for long and costly legal battles in the courts. Plus, the Bill tightens control around solid fuels and gives powers to local authorities to stop them being burnt in smoke control areas, like on river barges for example.
Minister Pow, however, said that the Environment Bill was only one tool to tackle air pollution along with a wider context of measures that have been put in place, most notably through the Clean Air Strategy. A new one is due to be published and the Strategy will continue to be reviewed every five years.
In line with discussions with the Chair of the APPG, the government is doing a review of indoor air pollution with Public Health England and are looking at targeted interventions. The Air Quality Expert Group will be producing a report on indoor air quality focusing on fine particular matter and volatile organic compounds.
Due to the pandemic this year, the government is reviewing the link between air pollution and Covid-19, such as the link between deaths from Covid-19 and long-term exposure to air pollution. Also, the government is looking into impact of lockdown and air quality. The Minister noted that through the pandemic the government has promoted active travel and given funding to local authorities to improve cycle lanes.
Professor Stephen Holgate made clear that public health needs to be centre of the bill, noting in particular the damage it had on the growth of babies’ lungs. He said that more needed to be made of the biology behind the threat of fine particles need much more emphasis and there needed to be greater analysis of the toxicology of particles, rather than talking generally about particles as if particles from diesel to ammonia to burnt toast were all the same. He noted that only by understanding the differential threat can we better tackle the biggest offended.
Prof Holgate lamented that the responsibility for air pollution had been devolved to national governments and Public Health England and suggested instead there should be a joined-up approach which is health focussed and places responsibilities on Transport, Planning and Housing as well as DEFRA to deliver enforceable WHO standards
While the Bill prepares to hand over more powers to local authorities, Professor Holgate pointed out that three councils – Southampton, Leeds and Coventry have abandoned planned Clean Air Zones for lack of government cash and new Covid-19 responsibilities.
Professor Eloise Scotford said the structure of the Environment Bill allows for ambitious targets to be created, yet there is also an opportunity for delay and a lowering of standards over time. The Bill therefore needs to include an objective for target setting, which for air quality needs to be around the highest level of public and environmental health. There also needs to be some signal as to when and how new targets will be set going forward. There is also a risk of their being a two-track of environmental standards, between the ones we currently have and the new ones the government will bring forward, where it seems the former will be more enforceable. Prof Scotford suggests interim targets would help plug that gap.
Prof Scotford agreed that more structures to encourage local authorities and public bodies to coordinate is a helpful step forward. Yet she noted that local authorities don’t always have competence over pollution sources like major road building, fuel duty and subsidies for cleaner transport or nearby industry and agriculture so the Bill should ensure that central government ultimately remain responsible for cleaner air.
These statements were followed by a Q&A, where audience members made up of doctors, academics, lawyers, journalists, environmental experts, local leaders, MPs and peers were able to ask questions to the panel.