Britain pledges legislation to combat deadly air pollution

Buildings and construction cranes are seen through a heat haze in London, Britain, on May 6, 2018.
Buildings and construction cranes are seen through a heat haze in London, Britain, on May 6, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

Residents of several major cities worldwide are suffering from the effects of severe air pollution, putting their governments under pressure to take action against this public health hazard

LONDON • Britain pledged yesterday to fight air pollution and introduce new legislation this year on air quality to save lives and billions of pounds for the economy.

The government said Britain would become the first major economy to adopt air quality goals based on World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations regarding people's exposure to particulate matter.

Environment Minister Michael Gove said in a statement: "Air pollution continues to shorten lives, harm our children and reduce (the) quality of life. We must take strong, urgent action."

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it aimed to reduce the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion (S$3 billion) every year by 2020, increasing to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.

Last year, the government published plans to reduce emissions from cars and planes. In addition to cars, diesel-only trains will also be phased out by 2040.

The strategy, which also looks to tackle home, farming and industrial pollutants, commits Britain to halving the number of people who live in areas breaching WHO guidelines on pollution as poor air quality in British cities comes under scrutiny.

Last Friday, Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox gave consent for a new inquest to be opened into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old asthma sufferer who died in 2013, after her family argued that the initial inquest ignored the role that air pollution might have played in her death.

A petition to Mr Cox by the family said there was evidence that Ella's hospital visits were linked to illegal levels on air pollution near her home in south London.

Mr Cox said the evidence meant the family could apply for a new inquest at the High Court. She would be the first person in Britain to have her death legally linked to air pollution as pressure groups bid to raise awareness of the impact poor air quality has on health.

"Thousands of lives are lost every year in the UK because the air we breathe contains dangerous particles," said Mr Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, adding that the strategy needs to be matched with legislative action.

"We urgently need these guidelines adopted into national law, to accelerate coordinated, bold and ambitious action that will protect people's heart and circulatory health wherever they live in the UK," he added.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'Britain pledges legislation to combat deadly air pollution'. Print Edition | Subscribe