UK Government ‘flouting its duty’ on air quality, finds UN report
UK citizens’ right to life is being implicated by air quality issues with the government having been accused of “flouting its duty”.
That’s according to a report prepared for the UN that also expresses concerns over the latest air quality plan.
Expressing his alarm over the air quality situation, Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights related to toxic waste, reported back on a fact-finding mission to the UK, as invited by the government and said that air pollution, fracking, the long-term disposal of high-level radioactive waste, legacy landfills and other issues were all brought to his attention.
Pointing to Environmental Audit Committee figures, Tuncak highlighted that over 40,000 premature deaths per year are estimated to occur in the country due to air pollution, with 9,000 in London alone.
He also reported back on a December 2015 report by Defra that found 38 out of 43 UK air quality zones exceeded maximum annual mean limits of nitrogen dioxide and that on two occasions, UK courts have found the government to be in breach of European Union air quality regulation.
Tuncak also highlighted the government’s latest air quality plan, which he said “does not convey the necessary urgency to protect the rights of children, older persons and other sensitive groups” and pointed out that the report discourages local authorities from using charging zones, “which the Government itself determined is the fastest, most effective way to reduce air pollution level”.
In response, Tuncak said the UK stands at a “critical juncture” as it prepares to leave the EU and said air pollution as well as areas such as fracking “require more stringent regulations and enforcement mechanisms to prevent human rights abuse”.
Recommendations include implementing a “robust” clean air plan straight away, taking into account recommendations from specialists, for example by developing an extensive network of clean air zones across the country.
And Tuncak urged the government to negotiate that it remain within European Union systems such as REACH and to continue to, following changing air quality standards of the European Union including its Clean Air Policy Package.
Responding to reports that the UK government is “flouting” its duty to protect the lives and health of its citizens from illegal and dangerous levels of air pollution, according to the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights related to toxic waste, Areeba Hamid, Clean Air Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said:
“The UK government’s failure to protect its citizens from toxic air pollution is now an international embarrassment. Illegal levels of toxic pollutants on our streets are harming people right now, yet the government is planning no serious action until the proposed ban on diesel and petrol cars in 2040.
“Today’s children will be adults by then – they should not have to wait nearly a quarter of a century for the government to act. Countries like India and Norway are already moving much faster to phase out polluting cars, and China is considering a ban too. Businesses like JLR, Volvo and Uber are taking steps to ditch harmful diesel and move to cleaner cars too. The UK government needs to step up a gear by getting rid of diesel first and establishing clean air zones to protect a whole generation of children from the impacts of air pollution.”