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RCP calls for more ambitious air quality targets in response to DEFRA consultation

The RCP has called for the government to strengthen its proposed targets for improving air quality in its response to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ consultation on environmental targets.

The government 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.

Air pollution represents a major public health challenge. The RCP’s joint report with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published in 2016 highlighted that each year in the UK the equivalent of around 40,000 deaths can be attributed to outdoor air pollution. Exposure to PM2.5 is a major part of this.

The recent report from the Clean Air Fund and Imperial College London, The Pathway to Healthy Air in the UK, makes clear that achieving an annual mean concentration of 10μg m-3 by 2030 is achievable and that many parts of the UK are already on course to meet this.

We continue to learn more about air pollution and its health and wider environmental effects every day, so government must be prepared to take increasingly ambitious action to mitigate its impacts on health.

Prescribing clean air is central to the RCP’s work to improve public health. You can learn more about our recent work in this update for Clean Air Day 2022.