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Air Pollution

January 3, 2019 9:07 AM
By Kevin Daws

As Liberal Democrats and Green Liberal Democrats we are all aware that Climate Change is the number one issue facing humanity. The IPCC Report in October 2018 made it very clear that we only have twelve years left to radically alter our impact on the planet to limit the climate change dangers of extreme weather, drought, floods and poverty.
Inevitably Air Pollution is linked to climate change most obviously through the burning of fossil fuels to power cars, planes, buses, motorbikes and other forms of transport. Air Pollution is not a new problem it has been with us for decades, you only have to read about the reasons for the introduction of the original Clean Air Act in 1956 to know that (Life before the Clean Air Act - your memories and pictures: The Guardian 05/07/16

The BMA (British Medical Association) produced a Parliamentary Briefing in the Autumn of 2017 which drew on a lot of evidence about the effects of Air Pollution and they produced 4 recommendations for action which are:

• Empowerment of local authorities to take remedial action when air pollution levels are high
• Effective monitoring of air quality and pollution
• The NHS to become an exemplar for clean air and safe workplaces
• Clearer information for consumers on emissions produced by new vehicles

The BMA, which is an independent trade union, passed a motion at its 2017 Annual Representative Meeting calling for greater action to tackle the illegal, lethal levels of air pollution in the UK, which are breaching international standards set by the EU (European Union) and the WHO (World Health Organization).

In their briefing the BMA state that "It has been estimated that exposure to air pollution leads to a loss of 15 minutes of life expectancy each day, and is associated with 40,000 premature deaths each year in the UK. The air pollution causing this harm is largely the result of the burning of fossil fuels in cars, lorries and power stations.

Health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution are very costly, not only to those who suffer from illness and premature death, but also to our health services and to business. In the UK, these costs add up to more than £20 billion every year."

The BMA is not the only trade union concerned about air pollution. The Hazards Campaign which has been running for over 25 years has put forward a 5 point Air Pollution Campaign Charter

  1. New Clean Air Act - We support legislation that enshrines the right to breathe clean air into domestic law, which should cover indoor as well as outdoor pollution.
  2. Establish a new Environmental Protection Agency - The legislation needs to be backed up by a watchdog body that has the teeth to take public bodies and employers to court.
  3. Skills and Training - The Clean Air Act should place duties on national and local authorities to collect adequate information on air pollution, and proactively provide the public with that information. Employers should also be required to:
    • Raise awareness and support workforce training on risks and control measures
    • Support the development of an Air Quality apprenticeship at levels 2,3 and 4.
  4. Just Transition - A clean air strategy will have implications for jobs and employment.
    • Ensure the application of Just Transition principles across all government departments responsible for drawing up and implementing Air Pollution policy.
    • Employers must consult in good time over product and design changes planned to implement new environmental standards that will have an impact on jobs.
  5. 'Polluter pays' principle - Cleaning up air in the UK will require significant expenditure. It is crucial that the public are not expected to pick up the bill. For example, scrapping diesel vehicles must be implemented as part of a transport policy that does not penalise those least able to pay and those least responsible.
    • Implement the principle in relation to companies subsidising the measures needed for a rapid transition to less polluting forms of energy and transport.

So what do we as the Liberal Democrats say:
Air pollution in the UK is a killer. It contributes to 40,000 premature deaths a year and costs the NHS £15 billion. This year, London exceeded its annual air pollution target in just five days. The government has failed time and again to comply with EU limits on pollution.
That's why the Liberal Democrats will pass a Green Transport Act, introduce an Air Quality Plan to reduce air pollution and protect UK citizens and support the manufacture of low-emission and electric vehicles, generating jobs and exports. This plan will include:
• A diesel scrappage scheme, and a ban on the sale of diesel cars and small vans in the UK by 2025.
• Extending Ultra-Low Emission Zones to ten more towns and cities.
• All private hire vehicles and diesel buses licensed to operate in urban areas to run on ultra-low emission or zero emission fuels within five years.
We will also reform vehicle taxation to encourage sales of electric and low-emission vehicles and develop electric vehicle infrastructure including universal charging points.

There is clearly a lot of overlap between what the Hazards Campaign, the BMA and the Liberal Democrats are saying and we also know that Air Pollution concerns many people in the UK.

According to an article in The Guardian nearly 2 years ago more than half of the British public believe air pollution levels across the UK are damaging to their health and almost two-thirds back proposals for new laws to tackle the issue, according to research. Since then the Government published a Clean Air Strategy in May 2018 for a consultation which ended in August 2018. They are now committed to publishing a Clean Air Strategy and detailed National Air Pollution Control Programme, by March 2019.

According to a report published by the Royal College of Physicians in 2016 and updated in 2018 Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution around 40,000 deaths a year are attributable to air pollution - you can download a copy of their report here
Here is a graphic which helps to illustrate the problems created by air pollution Air Pollution impact (Royal College of Physicians)

Currently, there is a Private Members Bill before Parliament called the Clean Air Bill 2017-2019 which received its 1st Reading on 20th November 2017 and is scheduled for its 2nd Reading on Friday 8th February 2019. The Clean Air Bill is being sponsored by Geraint Davies the Labour Co-operative MP for Swansea West.

All of the statements from the BMA, the Hazards Campaign and the Liberal Democrats provide a good starting point to campaign on air pollution and to develop more detailed policy. We can build on this through utilising the knowledge and experience of members in other SAOs and AOs such as the recently formed Liberal Democrat Health Group; the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists; the Association of Liberal Democrat Trade Unionists; the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidates Association; ALDC as well as the Liberal Democrat Group on the LGA. But we should work with organisations and individuals both within the party and outside the party to develop the Green Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrats policies on Air Quality and how we tackle Air Pollution as a part of tackling climate change.

If you are campaigning on and taking action to tackle air pollution in your area please let us know what you are doing whether it is as a local party or as a council group. If like me, you are a member of a trade union, are you raising this issue in your workplace and through your trade union?
Below are a few links for information referred to in the article above and for further information

Kevin Daws

Useful links

BMA Briefing

UK Health Alliance

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland

Air Pollution - a trade union issue Friday 1st February 2019, for tickets follow this link

Hazards 2018 Conference Reports

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy

The Guardian

Client Earth on Air Pollution

Friends of the Earth: 20 Shocking Facts about Air Pollution

Clean Air Bill 2017-2019 2nd Reading 25/01/19