Air pollution has been a persistent problem in the UK for years. Despite the various efforts made by policymakers and experts to address it, the latest reports suggest that the UK is still far from achieving a satisfactory outcome.
The admission of defeat by UK policy chiefs has raised questions about the effectiveness of the government’s environmental policy. It is forcing environmentalists to push the government for more stringent measures to tackle the air pollution problem plaguing the country for a long time.
Shortcomings in Enforcement of Existing Policies
On January 31, 2023, the UK’s Environment Secretary, Therese Coffey, made a candid admission about the country’s air pollution crisis: that the government will not be able to achieve its previous targets of reducing the harmful pollutants in the air to WHO recommended levels. This announcement comes in the wake of continuous unhealthy air quality alerts in major cities across the UK and a growing awareness of the dire consequences of long-term exposure to toxic air and the effects of diesel emissions on the environment.
The government’s admission of defeat comes as no surprise to environmental campaigners, who have been calling attention to the government’s lack of enforcement of existing policies. The CEO of Asthma + Lung UK, Sarah Woolnough, has highlighted the urgency of addressing air pollution as a public health emergency. She emphasises that 36,000 premature deaths occur in the UK annually due to this issue. Despite calls from the charity, the government has chosen to delay action until 2040 to improve air quality.
Unfortunately, this timeline is insufficient and falls far short of necessary. It means that for the next 17 years, children will continue to be exposed to toxic levels of air pollution, impacting their health and development. This dirty air can hinder lung growth, contribute to conditions like cancer, and worsen existing conditions such as asthma. Urgent action is needed to protect future generations from these harmful effects.
One of the biggest sources of air pollution in the country is transportation. In 2015, it was revealed that several car manufacturers, especially Volkswagen, had been falsifying emissions data and were using “cheat devices” to make their diesel vehicles appear more environmentally friendly than they actually were. This scandal led to a significant drop in diesel prices and a rise in the number of people purchasing diesel vehicles.
Since Volkswagen’s involvement in the diesel emissions scandal was uncovered, there have been multiple emission claims against car manufacturers, with individuals seeking compensation for the damage that was done. The UK government has also been forced to take action, ordering car manufacturers to recall vehicles and face increased scrutiny. Click here to learn more about Dieselgate.
The government has been accused of not treating the air pollution crisis with the urgency it deserves. The strategy to reduce pollution with promises of ‘low emission zones’ and ‘clean air zones’ appears to have not had a consistent or significant impact. The government has not yet implemented the recommended reform, such as green spaces and greener methods for farming.
Implications of the UK’s Failure to Achieve Air Pollution Targets
The UK’s failure to achieve air pollution targets carries significant health and economic implications. Poor air quality can lead to numerous health problems, including respiratory issues, heart disease, and premature death. This increased risk of ill-health places a significant burden on the healthcare system and negatively impacts the UK’s productivity.
Environmental and economic costs are also a serious concern. The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee estimates that the health costs of air pollution range from £8.5 billion to £20.2 billion per year. This not only impacts the economy but also reduces the productivity of the workforce. In fact, pollution-related declines in productivity have resulted in a £2.7 billion loss to the UK economy. Failure to achieve air pollution targets will ultimately raise these costs.
In addition, the UK’s inability to address its air pollution crisis can negatively impact its global reputation. With the world becoming more environmentally conscious, failing to act on such a critical environmental issue could lead the UK to be viewed unfavourably by other nations.
The Way Forward for the UK
Despite the challenges, some positive signs exist for the UK’s efforts to tackle air pollution. For example, there has been a significant increase in the use of electric vehicles in recent years. The government has also introduced new measures to reduce industry and power generation emissions.
However, much more needs to be done if the UK is to achieve its air pollution targets. This will require a coordinated effort from all levels of government, as well as from industry and the public. The government will need to continue investing in low-emission transport and promoting cleaner forms of energy, as well as firmly hold manufacturers accountable for diesel claims. Industry will need to be incentivized to reduce its emissions, and the public will need to be educated about the health risks of air pollution.