Brexit ‘opportunity’ for air quality regulation overhaul

The government has ‘significant opportunities’ to improve the regulation of air quality and reduce its burden on public health services after the UK has left the EU, a report has suggested.

Launched today (12 December), the report commissioned by the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) and produced by the air quality consultancy Aether, has called for the government to look at global ‘best practice’ in implementing measures to tackle air pollution.

EU legislation has been central to progress made in addressing air pollution in the UK, according to EIC

According to the report, EU legislation has been central to progress made in addressing air pollution in the UK.

But, the report notes that the transference of EU directives into UK law as part of the Brexit process provides an opportunity to ‘consolidate and simplify’ existing air quality regulations as well as speeding up the process of creating new legislation domestically.

Recommendations include the creation of a statutory Committee on Air Quality, modelled on the Committee on Climate Change, to track progress towards the achievement of good air quality across the UK and to hold the Government to account, with links to statutory air quality targets.

This could replace the European Commission and European Court of Justice in ensuring that the government is held to task in meeting its statutory obligations around air pollution once the UK has left the jurisdiction of the European Courts.


Elsewhere, the report calls for the government to continue to retain membership of international organisations including the European Environment Agency and to “continue to play an active role in supporting the evidence and policy development roles of this and other bodies”.

Matthew Farrow, EIC executive director: ‘The opportunity is to look beyond the EU approach and draw from best practice around the world’

“While the European Union has played a strong role in encouraging such cooperation,” the report states, “the benefits of sharing resources and bringing the best expertise to bear on a problem, regardless of where that expertise resides, offer stronger drivers. The benefits of cooperation across boundaries is reflected in the evidence structures which support the development of EU policy and legislation on air quality.”

On targets and air quality goals, the report calls for the adoption of a “continuous improvement approach” to pollutants including particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and its precursors (NO2, SO2 and ammonia).

These measures could be given statutory force through a new Clean Air Act, the report claims, which would offer ‘closer alignment with climate policy’, realign local and national policy to work together more closely, and clearly state long term goals for air quality in the UK.


Commenting on the proposals, EIC executive director Matthew Farrow said: “Brexit poses both a challenge and an opportunity for air quality policy. The challenge is to replicate the accountability and long-term framework provided by EU Directives.

“The opportunity is to look beyond the EU approach and draw from best practice around the world — such as the Canadian policy of requiring continual reductions of the most dangerous pollutants that we know pose a serious risk to the health of our fellow citizens. In this report we set out practical steps the Government should take to ensure we have an effective and robust air quality policy framework outside the EU.”

Tim Williamson, principal consultant at Aether and lead author of the report, added: “Air quality has yet to receive any real attention in the ongoing debate on the type of Brexit the UK wants, and even less on what happens afterwards.

“In this report Aether and EIC are providing recommendations to the UK government on what Brexit might mean for future air quality in the UK, along with opportunities to better address this major environmental challenge and ensure we keep making improvements into the future.”

At present little is known about the government’s intentions for air quality legislation after the UK has left the EU. Some commentators have expressed concerns that Brexit could present an opportunity for law makers to ‘water-down’ legal obligations around air pollution, particularly as much of the existing impetus for action has been driven by the requirements to meet EU Directives.

However, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove has offered some encouraging signals in stating his view that the UK ‘can do much better’ outside of the EU in its efforts to tackle air pollution, in his first major speech in the job in July (see story).


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