UK government admits: air pollution limits won't be met until after 2030

Traffic lined up in London, UK. Photo credit: Aaron Webb (cc)

Air pollution has serious health impacts, a recent WHO study concluded that about 7 million people around the world died in 2012 as a result from exposure to air pollution. And it’s expected that 29 000 people die too early as a result of air pollution in the UK alone. Now the UK government has admitted that they don’t expect to meet EU’s legal limits for nitrogen dioxide air pollution in at least three major cities until after 2030 – over 20 years too late and five years later than previously admitted.

The UK was supposed to meet EU’s legal air pollution limits back in 2010 but the progress to reduce the emissions has been slow. The failure to meet the deadline has resulted in legal procedures against the UK which could result in fines of £300m a year. EU Commission lawyers has described the case as “a matter of life and death” and said this would be “perhaps the longest running infringement of EU law in history”.

Judges at the Court of Justice of EU, where the legal case is currently being handled, was told earlier last week by representatives from ClientEarth, a non-profit environmental law organisation, and European Commission lawyers that the UK Government won’t meet nitrogen dioxide limits in London, Birmingham and Leeds until after 2030.

Representatives from the UK Government tried to suppress this information using rules on legal privilege, but later during the proceedings they admitted to it as it became clear that the DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK) had published information in support of this claim the day before on its website.

“It’s bad enough that the government has no intention of complying with these limits in the foreseeable future. It’s even worse that they’re trying to hide behind legal procedural rules to keep this quiet,” Alan Andrews, ClientEarth lawyer, said in a statement. “Another five years of delay means thousands more people will die or be made seriously ill. The UK needs to act now to get deadly diesel vehicles out of our towns and cities.”

Until now, the UK government has maintained it would meet nitrogen dioxide limits by 2025 in London and by 2020 in 15 other zones. But the new admissions means that London is expected to meet the targets five years later than previously acknowledged, and 10 years later for Birmingham and Leeds. The air pollution reduction target has also been delayed and pushed back in many other cities around the UK.

“These air quality rules should already have been met. Government, councils and the London Mayor must make this issue an urgent priority, and end this national scandal,” Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said. “Rapid steps to ban the dirtiest vehicles and cut traffic levels must be taken, and road-building plans that will simply add to the problem should be abandoned.”


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Wonderful the magnificient politics of David Cameron and the Conservatives. Meanwhile, Alex Salmond, Scottish PM, promises that by 2020 100% of Scotland electricity will be generated from renewable sources, sign of an intensive green politics. Sometimes different countries should run the global energy system.

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Fact is our government fails at keeping up with air pollution. It has done so in the past and will do continue to do so in the foreseeable future. 

Regardless, I don't think material limitations will make the problem better. Making the UK pay 300 million pounds an year won't teach the government to deliver on deadlines, it will only hurt the people who have absolutely no connection to the problem. 

If the EU wants to enforce regulations more rigorously, they should create real punishments, who will no allow such trespassing of the law. 

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