Clean Air Alliance UK

Our Aim: cleaner air faster

Why? Air quality is an important factor in people’s health and poor air quality continues to be widespread in the UK. On current estimates, some 29,000 people in the UK a year die prematurely because of air pollution. It is likely that this number will be reassessed upwards when the Government’s expert committee on health impacts of air pollution, COMEAP, reports its latest findings.

What is to be done? The UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee complained in 2014 about the failure of successive governments to tackle the problem effectively and has recommended actions that, implemented effectively, would improve air quality. The Alliance programme is based on these, in particular:

Our plans: Six priority actions:

Four further items for later action, following consultations on the new Government’s approach to clean air:

Why a new alliance? There are many organisations working towards clean air. CAAUK aims to support these bodies and to help them work more effectively together by giving them a forum and a mechanism for making their collective voice heard.

What is the form of the Alliance? The Alliance is a broad partnership of different interests all with the common aim of improving air quality and working towards healthier air. It comprises environmental interest groups, companies, public bodies, academic institutions and individuals.

Alliance Mission and Aims. The overall mission of the Alliance is to develop a broad partnership to accelerate progress towards clean and healthy air. It is envisaged as a partnership that will complement existing activities and to support them through a wider network of companies, public bodies, organisations and individuals.

Four objectives have been provisionally agreed:

  1. To raise public awareness of clean air as a public health issue
  2. To support the development of EU policies that are effective in delivering clean air and their UK implementation
  3. Raise the political profile of air pollution, its health impacts and opportunities for reducing it with politicians and regulators
  4. Develop and promote national actions to accelerate progress towards clean air and support Local Authorities in implementation, with the recommendations of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s report Action on Air Quality as a starting point.


Formation of a New Clean Air Alliance for the UK

Last October, EPUK announced that it would seek to build a new national alliance to work towards cleaner air for Britain. The idea was given enthusiastic early support by Lord Deben, who, as John Gummer, had been Secretary of State for the Environment and who provided assistance from his office to complement the work of the EPUK Secretariat. On the 21st of January this year an initial meeting of interested parties was held at the House of Lords.

The meeting considered the current state of air quality in the UK, the prospects for improvements in future, the experience of environmental groups, industry and public bodies in campaigning for clean air and the scope for accelerating progress. It concluded that the current position gave rise to a highly significant public health problem, shortening lives and exacerbating chronic conditions and that current trends in air pollution levels were static. The consequence of this was that unsatisfactory air quality would persist for many years unless action was taken more vigorously than envisaged under current national and European policies. There were however measures that, if implemented promptly, promised significantly faster progress towards cleaner air. In particular, the meeting noted the 2014 report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Action on Air Quality, which listed measures that could be taken now to reduce air pollution emissions.

The meeting concluded with an agreement to form a new clean air alliance for the UK, with the aim of raising awareness of air pollution problems and of promoting measures to deliver cleaner air more quickly, bringing in new resources and widening the range of partners involved in the work. An immediate objective would be to promote the all-party Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendations for action, and to try to ensure that the goal of cleaner air becomes a priority in the UK following the general Election, and in current European discussions in Brussels.

EPUK Position

This matter is of considerable concern to EPUK. In response to the great smogs of the 1950’s, NSCA (the National Society for Clean Air) and its members played a major part in bringing about the Clean Air Acts and in implementing their provisions. The main focus at that time was the reduction of pollution from coal combustion through the introduction of smoke control areas. Since then, NSCA and its successor body, EPUK, have continued to promote clean air, with an increasing emphasis on emissions from road transport as this became the major source of pollution in urban areas. In July 2011, on the 55th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, EPUK, with a wide range of partners, set up the Healthy Air Campaign, recognising that, although many of the past problems associated with coal burning has been solved, transport pollution contained a similar threat. Co-ordination of the Campaign was transferred to ClientEarth in 2012: it continues to press for action by Government to address air pollution problems and to encourage local pollution reduction initiatives.

Despite the recent introduction of vehicle emission controls of increasing stringency through a series of European directives, pollution levels remain stubbornly high in many parts of the UK and there seems little prospect that the levels set in European air quality legislation can be achieved any time soon. There is, therefore, a need for a more urgent response. In October last year, EPUK announced its intention to renew its commitment to clean air, by launching a new initiative, complementing current efforts and working with local and statutory authorities, other NGOs and the environmental industries to produce a range of possible solutions, with a particular focus on practical measures that could be implemented locally. The response has been encouraging and indicates a widespread desire to achieve faster progress towards cleaner air particularly in some of our more polluted urban areas.

Attaining the EU air quality targets in towns and cities by itself, however, will not be enough to provide the clean air that people in the UK need. Further efforts will be required to reduce air pollution. The experience from local initiatives has to be fed back into the national and EU policy discussions to produce more effective policy in future. This underlines the need for a long-term approach to the problem, with solutions that will last and adapt as new technology comes available.

EPUK therefore took the initiative to form the Clean Air Alliance UK and welcomes others to join.

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