RCP response to UK government’s draft clean air strategy

The RCP publishes its response to the UK government’s draft clean air strategy, and sets out actions to improve air quality in England by reducing pollution from a wide range of sources, including transport, farming and industry.

The response is based on the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change’s submission, and highlights where the government should focus its efforts to ensure that levels of pollution are reduced in the shortest time possible to protect and improve the nation’s health.

Outline

We know that air pollution causes and exacerbates many chronic conditions, increasing strokes and heart attacks in susceptible individuals. Air pollution also adversely affects the development of the fetus, and now there is compelling evidence that air pollution is associated with new onset asthma in children and adults, a contributing factor for diabetes and a risk factor for lung cancer. As recognised by the draft strategy, no levels of air pollution exposure are safe.

As such, the RCP recommends that the ultimate aim of the government’s air pollution policy should be to minimise the health impacts of air pollution by seeking to reduce concentration levels to as close to zero as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Response summary

  • The government’s commitment and duty to reduce air pollution and protect population health should be enshrined in law through a new Clean Air Act. Such an act should include:
    • Legally-enforced air quality standards that at least meet World Health Organisation recommended limits, with a plan to steadily decrease the legal exposure limit over time.
    • A new independent statutory body should be established as soon as possible to enforce these limits.
    • Powers and resources for local and regional authorities to tackle all sources of air pollution.
    • Require national agencies and local authorities to protect those most at risk and to reduce exposure to air pollution among vulnerable groups such as children, older people and those with pre-existing health conditions.
  • Central and local government should work with the healthcare community to use air pollution evidence to develop guidelines for practitioners in providing advice to their patients. The RCP would like to see this information tailored to the patient’s needs - e.g. information on the dangers of air pollution given a particular health condition, or local air pollution levels.
  • DEFRA, the Departments for Transport, Health and Social Care, local authorities and the devolved administrations should be required to present plans to a statutory enforcement body for progressively reducing the impact of air pollution on socio-economically deprived groups, alongside its plans to reduce air pollution impacts on the population in general and vulnerable groups.
  • In its carbon budgets, the government should include an explanation of how potential tensions between rapid climate change mitigation and air pollution reductions are resolved.
  • The RCP recommends the implementation of a 'National Mobility Scheme' which should provide funding to households and businesses to incentivise them to move away from polluting vehicles to more sustainable alternatives and a reduction in vehicle use in general.
  • The ban to end the sale of petrol, diesel and some hybrid cars and vans should be brought forward to 2030.
  • DHSC, NHS England and the devolved administrations must give NHS commissioners and providers incentives to reduce their emissions, and protect their employees and patients from dangerous pollutants.

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