What has the EU done for UK air quality?

EU action on air pollution has led to big improvements in London air pollution and UK air quality in general. But much more needs to be done. 
  Published:  27 Apr 2017    |      2 minute read

Every year, filthy and invisible  air pollution leads to tens of thousands of premature deaths in the UK. 

It's linked to asthma, impaired lung development in children, premature births, lung cancer and heart disease. 

Remember acid rain in the 1970s? 

In the 1970s the UK was known as the Dirty Man of Europe. 

Pollution from the UK’s coal-fired power stations was causing acid rain. Forests across Europe withered. EU action thankfully put an end to this. 

As a result, sulphur dioxide emissions dropped by 94% by 2011. This prevented an estimated 46,000 premature deaths between 1990 and 2001. 

Is air pollution still a problem? 

Air pollution is still a massive problem – especially in our traffic-congested cities. 

The most worrying pollutants are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and tiny particles called PM2.5 that can go deep into your lungs. 

Diesel cars produce a lot of NO2. You can’t see it but it’s linked to thousands of deaths each year. 

The UK has broken European Union safety limits for NO2 for years. And the EU has had enough – it has begun legal action against the UK. 

Yet the UK government is more intent on weakening EU standards than improving air quality. 

Environmental law firm Client Earth has taken the government through the UK courts. This resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that the government must take “immediate action” to meet EU limits in the shortest time possible.  

But the UK's response has been inadequate, so Client Earth is considering taking the government back to court. With Brexit on the horizon, it is even more important that the UK government takes responsibility for cutting air pollution.

Dealing with air pollution at an EU level ensures a level playing field

Friends of the Earth is urging the UK government to launch a scrappage scheme to encourage motorists to get rid of diesel vehicles. The government should also remove the road tax incentive for diesel over petrol, and offer better incentives for vehicles which are both low air-polluting and low carbon. 

Brexit and leaving the EU – will it hinder or help our air quality? 

Air pollution does not require a passport to cross over from France to the UK. Sometimes the pollution of others affects us. Sometimes our pollution affects them

This is not a problem the UK can solve on its own. 

Dealing with air pollution at an EU level ensures an equal playing field – where no country can undercut the other by allowing its companies to pollute more. This removes the temptation to start a regulatory race to the bottom. That's why, with Britain in talks about leaving the EU, we need to make sure that our air quality standards are safeguarded and our government takes decisive action to cut air pollution across the UK. 

This is an updated version of a blog first published on 21 February 2016. Promoted by Anne Schiffer on behalf of Friends of the Earth Trust.