I absolutely share concerns about the impact of dangerous and illegal levels of air pollution on the health of millions of people nationwide, including those most vulnerable in our communities. People living in the most deprived areas with the most toxic air suffer disproportionately greater ill health. I believe inaction has allowed catastrophic levels of air pollution to build up nationwide.
Therefore we must adopt into law enforceable targets as set by the World Health Organization (WHO) to bring air pollution down below harmful levels. As you may know, the WHO recently announced stricter air pollution guidelines.
I also support a Clean Air Act to establish a legal right to breathe clean air by ensuring the law on air quality is at least as strict as the WHO guidelines. In 2016, a report by the Royal College of Physicians found that 40,000 deaths are attributable to air pollution in the UK every year.
I have consistently supported efforts to include the WHO limits within the Environment Bill. At Report Stage in January 2021, I voted for an amendment to include these limits and I voted to retain the amendment added by the House of Lords to do the same. Unfortunately, the Government voted down both measures. The Opposition in the Lords tabled a subsequent amendment to include the 2005 and 2021 WHO targets within the Bill, but this too was voted down.
I believe the Government should have accepted its original defeat in the House of Lords and I am disappointed it is delaying a consultation on measures to tackle air pollution until next year. It says a final target will be brought forward in October 2022. I am concerned we will fall even further behind WHO clean air standards.
I worry we lack real leadership and that the new Office for Environmental Protection proposed in the Environment Bill is insufficiently independent with weakened powers and scope. Given the UK Government has been taken to court repeatedly for missing air quality targets, it is crucial the regulator has teeth to ensure targets are enforced.