Neil Parish is Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tiverton and Honiton.
A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister showcased this Government’s brilliant environmental credentials and commitment to the natural environment with the launch of a new 10-point climate plan. The ten-point climate plan sets out an ambitious roadmap to achieving our net zero emissions target by capturing the wide-reaching changes required across our whole economy.
Now, as preparations for next year’s climate summit intensify, the Prime Minister has an ideal opportunity to demonstrate that environmental leadership at home through the landmark Environment Bill. The Bill returns to Parliament soon for Report Stage, and is a key opportunity for the Government to build on its environmental ambition set out in the ten-point climate plan by acting further and faster to improve the UK’s air quality for all.
Improving the nation’s air quality has never been more important as we are reminded of the tragic impact air pollution can have on our health by the launch of the inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah. Ella, who lived near one of London’s busiest roads, was nine years old when she suffered a fatal asthma attack in 2013 after three years of seizures and breathing problems. The two-week inquest begins this week and will examine the extent to which air pollution contributed to or caused her death.
As cases like Ella’s demonstrate the dangerous state of our nation’s air and its impact on our health, I have tabled an amendment to the Environment Bill that would require us to achieve 2005 World Health Organization (WHO) guideline limits for particulate matter (PM2.5) by 2030.
PM2.5 are small harmful particles that can penetrate deep into our lungs. They are a major component of the UK’s air pollution, and can have devastating impacts for our health. In fact, the British Heart Foundation found that living in an area with high levels of PM2.5 for one year can have the same health impact as smoking 150 cigarettes a year. So, although the UK is currently meeting legal limits for PM2.5, this is because our existing limits are much looser than what is required to truly safeguard our health.
Strengthening our air pollution target and committing to achieve it by 2030, however, is feasible, popular and well-accepted. For example, when Michael Gove was Environment Secretary, he said that ‘we have to ensure our Environment Bill includes a legally binding commitment on particulate matter so that no part of the country exceeds the levels recommended by the WHO.’
This was also one of the main recommendations made in the 2018 Joint Select Committee report on “Improving Air Quality” published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which I chair, alongside the Environmental Audit Committee and the Health and Transport Select Committee. Meanwhile, a technical analysis by Defra revealed that reaching WHO guidelines is achievable.
When the amendment is supplemented with a range of practical steps that can help get polluting vehicles off our streets, the Government can truly make our air cleaner and healthier up and down the country. I therefore applaud the recently announced ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. It is a signal that our Government has the vision and fearlessness to tackle the nation’s dirty air. The Government must now build on this announcement with further measures to improve the nation’s air quality, including turbocharging its plan for a network of rapid charging points, and working with local authorities in key cities to roll out clean air zones too.
By committing ourselves through our new Environment Bill to reach WHO guidelines on air quality by 2030, Britain can yet again demonstrate our environmental leadership at home and on the world stage. I have campaigned for several years to clean up the air we breathe, and very much hope we can now seize this once-in-a generation opportunity to do so.