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
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.
Environment Bill with Minister Rebecca Pow Ahead of the Environment Bill returning to Parliament, the APPG is delighted to host Minister Pow to discuss improving air quality through the Environment Bill along with panellists:
Professor Stephen Holgate, Royal College of Physicians special adviser onair quality, and
Professor Elouise Scotford, Environmental Law at UCL