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RCP comments on announcement that UK government will miss deadline for setting environmental targets

The RCP has responded to the news that the government will miss the legal deadline for setting environmental targets.

The Environment Act 2021 requires the UK government to set targets for environmental improvement in a number of different areas, including air quality. The Act set a legal deadline of 31 October 2022 for these targets to be tabled in parliament as statutory instruments. The secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs confirmed to parliament today that this legal deadline will be missed.

Commenting on this, Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, special adviser on air quality at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), said:

“These targets are supposed to play a central role in driving our efforts to address environmental decline and its impact on human health in various areas, including air quality. It is therefore deeply disappointing and extremely concerning that the government will now miss the deadline for introducing them.

“Earlier this year the RCP along with leaders from many other health organisations called on the government to be more ambitious in setting its clean air targets and commit to reducing pollution from toxic fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to 10µg m-3 by 2030, rather than 2040 as had originally been proposed. There must also be a longer-term ambition of reducing PM2.5 levels to 5µg m-3 in line with the latest recommendations from the World Health Organization.

“Air pollution is a significant public health issue. In 2016 a joint report from the RCP and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health estimated that the equivalent of 40,000 deaths are attributable to outdoor air pollution alone every year in the UK. Earlier this year, research by the Clean Air Fund and Imperial College London also found that reducing PM2.5 levels to 10μg m-3 by 2030 is feasible – many parts of the UK are already on course to meet this. It also showed that it would lead to 3,100 fewer coronary heart disease cases and 388,000 fewer reported asthma symptom days in children each year. The total economic benefits were projected to be in excess of £380 billion.

“It is now essential that the government tables the environmental targets in parliament as soon as possible, with a clear commitment to reduce levels of PM2.5 to 10μg m-3 by 2030. Delivering clean air as quickly as possible must be a priority for the health of the nation.”