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Health leaders say Government air pollution plans are insufficient to protect the public

23 Jun 2021

College President, Professor Jackie Taylor, has joined twenty health leaders urging the government and peers to introduce new legally-binding air quality targets without delay. Members of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change say current Government plans are insufficient to protect the public from immediate harm.

College President, Professor Jackie Taylor, has joined twenty health leaders urging the government and peers to introduce new legally-binding air quality targets without delay. Members of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change say current Government plans are insufficient to protect the public from immediate harm.

Last Thursday the Government responded to a coroner’s report produced to prevent future deaths from air pollution after it was recorded as a cause of the death nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, but failed to heed the Assistant Coroner Philip Barlow’s primary recommendation – that air quality targets in line with the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO) should be seen as the “minimum requirement”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that fine particulate (PM 2.5) pollution should not exceed 10 µg/m3, yet current UK legal limits are more than double this – at 25 µg/m3. Government plans under the Environment Bill only require the setting of new air quality targets by 2022 at an as yet unconfirmed level, to be determined by ministers.

The Royal College of Physicians has estimated that around 40,000 deaths a year may be attributed to air pollution, while NHS/PHE figures for a period of five years before the pandemic showed 5% of all deaths in those aged over 30 were attributable to PM 2.5 pollution specifically. The sources of fine particulate pollution – road transport, domestic and industrial burning – are also the sources of a significant proportion of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing air pollution will also contribute to meeting the Government’s climate commitments.

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change believes that delaying the setting of air quality targets, and failing to commit to following the guidance of the WHO will damage the health of thousands of people across the country, and have written to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Rebecca Pow the minister responsible for the Environment Bill, making the economic, health, and environmental cases for strong legal protection from unclean air.

Signatories to the letter, include Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, Chair of the British Medical Association’s Board of Science and Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-chief of The Lancet. Several members of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change also responded last week to the coroner’s report, laying out what they will do to increase education and awareness amongst health professionals and the public of the health risks of air pollution.

In a coordinated message sent to all members of the House of Lords, who will begin scrutiny of the bill at ‘Committee Stage’ tomorrow, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change has called for peers to support an amendment tabled by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch, which would enshrine in law a target to reduce PM 2.5 pollution to the WHO recommended maximum level or below by 2030.

Read/download the letter as a pdf


Dr Richard Smith, Chair, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change
Prof Martin Marshall, Chair, Royal College of General Practitioners
Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-chief, The Lancet
Prof Jon Bennett, Chair, British Thoracic Society
Andrew Goddard MD, President, Royal College of Physicians
Jude Diggins, Interim Director of Nursing, Policy and Public Affairs, Royal College of Nursing
Ms Carol Stonham, Executive Chair, Primary Care Respiratory Society
Mr Neil Welch, President, Association of Surgeons of Great Britain & Ireland
Prof Jackie Taylor, President of Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
Prof Mike Griffin, President, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
Chaitra Dinesh, National Director, Students for Global Health UK
Dr Mandisa Greene, President, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
Tracy Nicholls, Chief Executive of the College of Paramedics
Prof Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Prof Rustam Al-Shahi Salman, President, British Association of Stroke Physicians
Dr Camilla Kingdon, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Dr Edward Morris, President, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
Dr Adrian James, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Prof Maggie Rae, President, Faculty of Public Health
Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor-in-chief, The BMJ
Prof Dame Parveen Kumar, Chair of the BMA Board of Science

Category: Climate Change

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