24 October 2017
The judgements that followed, which found the 2015 Air Quality Plan was so bad it was illegal, vindicated air pollution campaigners and humiliated the Government. But it also left one glaring question: why the Government fought the case in the first place.
The truth those in power tried to push aside is that air pollution is fast becoming one of the most urgent global crises of our time.
It is widely accepted by campaigners and doctors alike that air pollution in the UK has caused a public health emergency.
The number of authorities in Britain missing air pollution targets hit an all-time high last year of 70%, with our dirty air linked to 40,000 premature deaths every year.
Of course, the impacts are not felt evenly. Pollution is highest in our city centres, with toxicity in London contributing to 9,000 deaths every year. BAME people, those who are young or old and those who live in poverty feel air pollutions worst effects.
Globally, air pollution contributes to the premature deaths of nine million people a year. That’s three times higher than the death toll from AIDs, TB and Malaria combined.
Against this backdrop, the Government’s aim in its 2015 plan to reduce air pollution just in time to miss European fines (as opposed to as soon as possible) is scandalous.
It should have come as no surprise, therefore, that the Government’s response to the rulings against it was to produce another feeble plan.
The supposedly new and improved plan announced in May this year fell far short of the drastic action needed to clean up our toxic air.
Britain urgently needs a new Clean Air Act fit for the 21st century, as well as real action towards making our city centres zero emission.
A scrappage scheme would help people ditch their dirty vehicles, while huge investment is needed in public transport, walking and cycling routes. Such measures were conspicuous by their absence in the Government’s plan.
ClientEarth’s brave decision to take the Government to court demonstrated just what can be achieved when people speak truth to power. But it also revealed the lengths to which the Government will go to protect itself. It is more important now than ever that we defend the right to breathe clean air and continue to put forward the bold plans needed.