RCP calls for greater action on air pollution

Government has taken ‘some positive steps’ in its efforts to tackle air pollution, but local authorities must be given greater powers to protect public health — a major health body has claimed.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has outlined five priority recommendations for government to implement in order to address dangerous levels of air pollution in towns and cities.

Physicians have called for greater action to address air pollution – two years after the publication of a landmark report into the issue

These come in a paper issued to assess progress being made to tackle air pollution two years after the publication of the RCP’s ‘Every Breath We Take’ report, a landmark study into the impact of air pollution in the UK (see story).

According to RCP, the government’s 2017 air quality plan was a “missed opportunity to show the commitment and leadership required to tackle the UK’s dirty air crisis”.


RCP notes that since the publication of the 2016 report, ‘evidence of the scale of the air pollution crisis has continued to grow’ as has criticism of the government’s response to the ‘health emergency’ created by pollution.

It adds: “The government has taken some positive steps to address air pollution, such as the promise to ban the sales of diesel and petrol cars by 2040. This will deliver important public health benefits in the long term. However, we need immediate action that will deliver health benefits in the shortest time possible.

“Pockets of innovative policy and clear political will to effect change are emerging in local governments and cities across the UK. For example, the mayor of London has made tackling air pollution a priority and the city’s Clean Air Action Plan for London introduced the ‘T-charge’ for the most polluting vehicles and an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ).”

RCP adds that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU presents threats and opportunities for the air pollution policy agenda, and calls for government to legislate in a number of areas it believes action is required.

This includes committing to new air pollution targets based upon World Health Organization guidelines; a UK-wide framework for the expansion of Clean Air Zones in towns and cities, and; greater powers for local authorities to act when pollution levels are elevated.

Full recommendations include:

  • Commit to new and ambitious targets for reduction in air pollution based on World Health Organization guidelines.
  • Introduce a clean air bill for the 21st century. It must tackle the modern sources of air pollution, safeguard the legal protections that we could be stripped of on leaving the EU, and improve on existing legislation to enshrine the right to breathe clean air.
  • Set a UK-wide framework for the expansion of ‘clean air zones’ in towns and cities (including ships in docks and airports), with increased funding for their implementation and a clear mandate for charging zones in the most polluted cities.
  • Urgently accelerate funding in support of the shift to zero emissions transport, implementing policies that incentivise low emission vehicles and disincentivise the use of diesel (eg effective scrappage schemes for diesel vehicles and increased taxation on diesel fuels).
  • By 2020, increase investment in active transport to at least £10 per capita and, in addition, promote safer road design and provide the infrastructure and necessary incentives to increase levels of walking, cycling and public transport use.

Related Links
Every Breathe We Take – 2018 Progress Report


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