Home » Guidelines & Policy » RCP response to the government consultation on air quality targets under the Environment Act 2021

RCP response to the government consultation on air quality targets under the Environment Act 2021

The RCP has responded to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ consultation on environmental targets calling for more ambition to reduce levels of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5

The 2021 Environment Act requires the government to set two new legal targets for air quality by the end of 2022. 

The consultation suggests two long-term targets for reducing levels of fine particulate matter (known as “PM2.5”) in the air to be included in legislation later this year. The government is proposing: 

  • An Annual Mean Concentration Target – limiting PM2.5 to 10 micrograms per cubic metre (μg m-3), to be met across England by 2040. 
  • A Population Exposure Reduction Target – a 35% reduction in population exposure to PM2.5 by 2040. 

In its consultation response, the RCP says these proposed air quality targets are not ambitious enough given the significant impact that air pollution has on health. We believe that the government should: 

  • seek to achieve the annual mean concentration target and population exposure reduction target by 2030 instead of 2040; 
  • and that government’s ultimate objective should be to reduce annual mean concentration for PM2.5 to 5μg m-3 in line with WHO’s updated air quality guideline values. 

The government’s own analysis indicates that reaching 11μg/m-3 is likely to be achievable by 2030 across most modelled scenarios including the government’s preferred ‘High’ ambition option. 

A recent report from the Clean Air Fund and Imperial College London, The Pathway to Healthy Air in the UK, also makes clear that achieving an annual mean concentration of 10μg m-3 by 2030 is achievable and that doing so could lead to 3,100 fewer coronary heart disease cases and 388,000 fewer reported asthma symptom days in children each year.  

In addition to setting robust targets in the Environment Act, government should take steps to reduce air pollution as part of a wider cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities. The upcoming Health Disparities white paper from the Department of Health and Social Care should also seek to address polluting generating activities and improve public information on air pollution.