The Government must address ‘alarming’ levels of poor air quality, which disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities, says the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee.
Drawing on evidence taken from health experts, local councils and campaign groups, the Committee’s Air Quality report urges the Government to ‘firm up’ its commitment to clean air by amending the Environment Bill – now delayed until autumn – to set a specific target to reduce levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.
Long-term targets for other key pollutants, including NO2 and ammonia, must also be set, MPs say.
The committee also wants more support for local authorities.
It suggests there is “too much responsibility” given to local authorities “without sufficient resources” to improve local air quality and wants the Government to provide a long-term funding structure.
Campaign to get people back on public transport
To address concerns that social distancing rules may cause an increase in car use, the MPs want to see a public communications campaign encouraging a return to public transport, once levels of Covid-19 have fallen sufficiently, as well as embracing forms of active travel including cycling and walking.
While the committee welcomes the Government’s pledge to a green recovery, including the ban of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, it urges the Government to make investments in infrastructure now, including the roll out of electric vehicle charging points in rural communities, and improved broadband to enable home working.
It also calls on the Government to ‘lead by example’ and update buying standards to ensure that only zero tailpipe emissions vehicles are procured across the public sector by 2025.
Consideration should be given to incentivising small businesses to update transport fleets with cleaner vehicles, MPs say.
Neil Parish MP, chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said: “Every year, an estimated 64,000 deaths are linked to air pollution disproportionately affecting disadvantaged communities.
“In rebuilding after the pandemic, we have a moral duty to put improving air quality at its core.
“While the Clean Air Strategy is a step in the right direction, the Government needs to be more ambitious. Before the Environment Bill comes back, commitments to reduce the levels of toxic particulates that cause the most harm must be strengthened – and targets on reducing the health impacts of air pollution included too.
“We were quick to return to our old ways following the spring (2020) lockdown, with pollution levels bouncing back by the summer.
“The Government has rightly banned the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, but we need more work to help accelerate towards a greener, cleaner future, so that commuting less and using electric vehicles more will be a real option for the majority.”
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