UK to Introduce New Legal Limits on Air Quality

The UK Government has announced that as part of a growing list of measures designed to address air pollution, new legal limits on air quality will be introduced before the end of next year.

The Government has also promised an extra £6m for local authorities to drive reductions in air pollution in all areas, including significantly increasing the monitoring network.

This is exciting news for EMSOL, which deploys cutting-edge air monitoring networks in conjunction with state-of-the-art, real-time vehicle tracking technology to accurately identify the who, what, where and when of air quality breaches.

Air pollution is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the biggest environmental health risk in the world. It also tops the list of environmental health hazards in the UK, where it is estimated to cause the equivalent of up to 40,000 premature deaths annually.

There is some major noise around the air pollution problem currently, with many people witnessing first-hand, the benefits of reduced pollution during various lockdowns around the world – and they are now asking why clean air should not be the norm?

This government announcement comes on the back of a ruling in March of this year by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), that the UK had “systematically and persistently” exceeded legal limits for dangerous nitrogen dioxide (NO2) since 2010; and had failed against its legal duties to put plans in place to tackle the problem in the shortest possible time.

Despite the UK withdrawing from the EU, that ruling could see Britain facing fines if it fails to take action to comply, as the European Commission started infringement proceedings against the UK government in 2014.

There are currently 33 out of 43 reporting zones in the UK which chart levels of NO2 pollution above legal limits. A referral to the CJEU – the EU’s highest court – is one of the latter stages of the infringement procedure and only used by the Commission as a means of last resort, once other more conciliatory efforts to achieve compliance have been exhausted.

The proposed Office for Environmental Protection will be the new domestic institution holding the UK government accountable if it breaches its environmental responsibilities.

Katie Nield, lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, recently said, “This ruling comes from a European court, but Brexit or no Brexit, these pollution limits remain in national law. The UK government is still bound by these rules and our own domestic courts have repeatedly found that ministers have been flouting them ever since they came into force.”

“To tackle harmful nitrogen dioxide pollution quickly, the evidence clearly shows that Clean Air Zones, which are designed to keep the most polluting vehicles out of the most polluted parts of town, are the most effective solution.

“It’s up to the UK Government to work with local leaders to make sure these schemes are put in place as quickly as possible, alongside help and support for people and businesses to move to cleaner forms of transport.

“Whilst authorities dither and delay on action to get the most polluting vehicles out of our towns and cities, people’s lives are being ruined by toxic air.”

Nield added: “The UK government has said that Brexit is an opportunity to take back control and to develop “the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”.

“There is now a clear opportunity to not only establish stronger laws protecting people’s health and the environment, such as putting World Health Organization air quality guidelines into the Environment Bill – but also to create a strong oversight and enforcement body that will ensure those laws are complied with.”

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