Quitting the EU could make our air pollution problem even worse, it’s been claimed
Attempts to clean up Birmingham’s filthy air are failing.
And the problem could get even worse once the UK leaves the European Union.
That’s the claim from a House of Commons inquiry, which called on the Government to launch a major campaign to encourage people to drive electric cars.
In a new report, the inquiry named 38 out of 43 areas across the UK that are in break of legal air pollution limits, including the West Midlands.
The European Union set limits for the level of air pollution which were supposed to be met by 2010.
But the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has admitted that the target was missed in the West Midlands. Instead, it said in a recent report: “We expect this zone to be compliant by 2020.”
And a study by Public Health England warned that in air pollution was responsible for an estimated 520 deaths a year in Birmingham alone.
Now, a new report by MPs has warned that the problem is not being dealt with quickly enough.
In particular, they say that the Government is failing in its attempts to encourage people to start using low-pollution vehicles such as electric cars.
And they say they are worried about the effect of leaving the EU, because at the moment it’s the European Union that imposes air pollution targets.
MP Mary Creagh, chair of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, said: “We need 9% of all new cars to be ultra-low emission vehicles by 2020 if we’re going to meet our climate change targets at the lowest cost to the public.
“But the Department’s forecasts show it will get only around half way to this target.”
She added: “The Department should also aim for almost two thirds of new cars and vans to be ultra-low emission vehicles by 2030. With no strategy, we have no confidence that The Department for Transport will meet this target.”
And she warned: “With the vote to leave the EU, there’s a material risk to our air quality targets. At the very least, the Government should commit to keeping existing European air quality standards.”
MPs said regions where air pollution breaches legal air quality limits include Coventry and Bedworth; The Potteries; the West Midlands urban area, including Birmingham and the Black Country, and the wider West Midlands region.
Public Health England has previously revealed that almost 1,500 people in the West Midlands are dying from pollution each year.
This includes 520 excess deaths in Birmingham, 168 in Coventry, 173 in Dudley, 198 in Sandwell, 107 in Solihull, 155 in Walsall and 139 in Wolverhampton.
The pollution figures refer to levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air. This is a gas released when fuels are burned, including petrol or diesel in a car engine, and it can affect the way lungs work over long periods of time.
The European Union’s Air Quality Directive states that on average over the course of a year there should be no more than 40 micrograms – a millionth of a gram – of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air. The EU target states that there should never be more than 200 micrograms of the gas per cubic metre of air even in the worst conditions.
A government spokesman said: “The Government is firmly committed to improving the UK’s air quality and cutting harmful emissions. That’s why we have committed more than £2 billion to greener transport schemes since 2011 and set out a national plan to tackle pollution in our towns and cities.
“We have some of the safest roads in the world and are committed to making sure that record continues.”