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The Clean Air Briefing

April 11, 2022 7:00 AM
By Green Liberal Democrats

The improvement in air quality that we saw during lockdowns brought the issue, an early target of environmentalism, to the fore of public attention. The moment provided us with insight into what might be possible for future air quality in our communities.

Given the significant threat to health and well-being that poor air quality represents, raising awareness of the transformative impact that local initiatives can have is a vital campaign point.

YouGov polling found that across six European countries, two thirds said they did not want to go back to pre-Covid pollution levels. Roughly the same proportion (68%) agreed that cities and towns must take effective measures to protect citizens from air pollution, even if it means preventing polluting cars from entering city centres to protect clean air, with as many as 63% of drivers themselves in support.

Around three quarters (74%) of respondents believed that cities must take effective measures to protect citizens from air pollution, with just 10% opposed.

We have an opportunity, as we look forward, to improve the health of people and the planet.

The Problem:

Air Pollution is the most significant environmental threat to health in the UK, responsible for 36,000 early deaths every year. It causes the development of heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer.

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is the primary cause of damage, with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) also responsible.

Children are at greater risk from air pollution, with those living in polluted areas more likely to have reduced lung growth. Maternal exposure to polluted air can result in premature and low birth-weight babies.

A quarter of UK children attend schools with air pollution above the World Health Organisation limit, placing 3.4 million young people at increased risk of asthma, obesity, and cognitive impairments.

Schools should be safe places. They should not threaten the health of our children.

However, the United Kingdom's national limits for nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter are set at four times the level of the World Health Organisation guidelines, and the principal source of these are traffic emissions, with wood-burning stoves also being a major contributing factor in some areas.

Following the tragic death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, air pollution was listed as a cause of death for the first time in December of 2020. In a report to prevent future deaths, the coroner recommended a reduction in national limits of particulate matter.

The Solution:

At Liberal Democrats 2022 Spring Conference, the Party passed motion F9: Action to Improve Air Quality, proposed by Cllr Hina Bokhari AM and Summated by Cllr Jon Ball.

The Motion calls on local authorities to:

  1. Install more pollution sensors near major roads and at every urban school.

  2. Publicise local air quality issues including publishing live pollution levels from their pollution sensors stating specific levels of pollutants using globally recognised units of measurement.

  3. Work to improve air quality in their area.

  4. Take into account likely differential air pollution changes in different roads when designing traffic schemes.

  5. Consider implementing or extending Clean Air Zones, in consultation with residents and local businesses to ensure that such zones reduce net pollution and don't merely displace activity

  6. Promote schemes to allow the rapid and affordable replacement of petrol and diesel vehicles by lower polluting vehicles by local businesses in conjunction with the introduction of Clean Air zones.

  7. Establish No-Idling Zones outside schools.

Conference also called for the Government to:

  1. Urgently bring forward statutory instruments under the Environment Act 2021 to introduce legally binding national limits for particulate matter and other pollutants at or below current WHO guidelines.

  2. Introduce a fully-funded obligation for all local authorities to install and maintain pollution sensors in their areas.

  3. Introduce a scrappage scheme targeted at the most polluting older vehicles, in particular old diesel vehicles, and at vehicles used by local businesses in proposed Clean Air Zones.

  4. Introduce targeted funding to provide financial support for the operators of buses, taxis and private hire vehicles to switch to less polluting technologies.

  5. Increase the Air Quality Grant Programme which provides funding to local authorities to tackle locally identified air pollution issues.

  6. Encourage local authorities to run public education style programmes and allow them to follow these with an increased maximum penalty that they can apply to drivers leaving their engines idling, with the local authorities retaining 100% of the money raised.

  7. Fund local authorities to introduce more electric charging points in Clean Air Zones, allowing supply to keep ahead of demand.

Read the full motion here

The Campaign:

We've produced a pack of essential resources for campaigning on improving air quality:

P.S: We don't have long now until Polling Day, but we are doing everything we can to support campaigners like you to deliver for your communities.

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