The UK will fail to meet any of its air pollution targets in 2030, even with ‘mitigation measures’, according to a new report.
The UK will be in breach of allowed limits for key toxic chemicals including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia.
The finding are revealed in a report from the European Commission “on the progress made…on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants”.
Legally binding commitments were agreed by EU member states, including the UK, and came into force in December 2016.
The UK was included in the analysis because the work was carried out before Brexit. The data has only now been published.
The government has promised that, beyond Brexit, it will commit to existing air quality agreements as part of an “ambitious air quality strategy”.
This report suggests that that strategy is not working.
In the case of ammonia, and particulate matter (PM2.5), the European Commission warns that the UK is still at “high” risk of breaching even the current, less stringent targets.
There is a “high” risk of breaking all targets in 2030.
Risk of “non-compliance” for the UK currently “medium” or “high”, and from 2030 all “high”
– European Commission report, June 2020
Pollution will still be too high even after the UK has put in place ‘mitigation measures’.
But the report concludes these interventions are not enough.
The EU says it subsequently asked the UK what additional measures it would therefore take. But received no reply.
Air pollution is estimated to kill, or be a contributing factor, in the deaths of tens of thousands of people every year.
There are also new fears that bad air could exasperate the effects of coronavirus.
Air pollution has long been a problem in the UK, particularly in cities. Environmental NGO, ClientEarth, has taken the government to court – and won – for proving that the UK had failed to sufficiently address existing agreed EU pollution targets.
Responding to this latest report, ClientEarth told me the UK’s air pollution plan “falls well short”.
And they warn that “Brexit will not be an escape route for the UK Government – these targets have been enshrined in domestic law so the UK will have to commit to further action and put people’s health first.”
However, the government is confident that it is addressing air pollution.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs told me that they are “continuing to take urgent action to improve air quality.”
“We know the impact that air pollution has on communities across the UK, which is why we are continuing to take urgent action to improve air quality.
“Our ground-breaking Environment Bill includes a commitment to set a legally binding target on fine particulate matter for the first time, which will improve the quality of millions of people’s lives.
“This is alongside a £3.8 billion plan to reduce harmful emissions from transport, and our Clean Air Strategy, which has been praised by the World Health Organisation as ‘an example for the rest of the world to follow’.”
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs statement, 2 July 2020
There is still time to prepare for tougher targets and it may be that the government’s future measures will make the difference.
From next year, the government is imposing new restrictions on the sale of coal and wet wood, a major contributor to particulate matter pollution, for example.
The EU report will not have taken this into account because, according to the European Commission, the government didn’t reply with information on additional planned measures.
Other European countries are facing similar prospects of failing targets without further action, according to the EU report.
Poland and Portugal pose an across-the-board “high” long-term risk of breaching their limits too.
Not one EU country is on track to meet all their targets
From the countries which supplied sufficient data, surprisingly, car-loving Belgium comes closest.
The European Commission today warned Denmark, Hungary and Malta “to improve their rules against air pollution” or face being taken to the European Court of Justice and the risk of fines.
The EU’s Environment Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, urged governments to act.
“Too many citizens are still at risk from the air they breathe. We need more effective measures to cut pollution in numerous Member States and to tackle air emissions across sectors, including agriculture, transport and energy.”
Another check-up is planned for 2022.
“This directive – referred to also as the NEC Directive – sets national emission reduction commitments for each EU Member State for the period 2020 to 2029 and more ambitious ones as of 2030, targeting five air pollutants responsible for significant negative impacts on human health and the environment: sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).”