The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has urged the government to set stricter air quality targets to reduce the health inequalities exposed by the pandemic.
Drawing on evidence taken from health experts, local councils and campaign groups, the committee’s new report calls the government to set a specific target to reduce particulate levels in line with the World Health Organisation guidelines.
Fine particulate matter is an air pollutant made up of particles of solids and liquids that are in the air.
The body stresses the most disadvantaged communities, who contribute the least to air pollution, suffer the most from its effects.
It also raises concerns that the current clean air strategy lacks the ambition to fully address the challenges posed by poor air quality.
In addition, the committee urges the government to provide a long term funding mechanism so local councils can work proactively to improve air quality.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said: “Every year, an estimated 64,000 deaths are linked to air pollution disproportionately affecting disadvantaged communities. In rebuilding after the pandemic, we have a moral duty to put improving air quality at its core.
“While the Clean Air Strategy is a step in the right direction, the government needs to be more ambitious. Before the Environment Bill comes back, commitments to reduce the levels of toxic particulates that cause the most harm must be strengthened – and targets on reducing the health impacts of air pollution included too.
“We were quick to return to our old ways following the spring lockdown, with pollution levels bouncing back by the summer. The government has rightly banned the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, but we need more work to help accelerate towards a greener, cleaner future so that commuting less and using electric vehicles more will be a real option for the majority.”
A government spokesperson said: “Air pollution at a national level has reduced significantly since 2010 – emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) have fallen by 9%, while emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by 33% and are at their lowest level since records began. However, we know there is more to do as we build back greener from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Through our landmark Environment Bill we have committed to setting at least two ambitious new air quality targets, with a primary focus on reducing public health impacts. One of these will be a new concentration target on PM2.5 – the most damaging pollutant to human health – and as part of this we will be considering the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for PM2.5.”