The Environment Act 2021 set a deadline of 31 October 2022 for the government to introduce a range of environmental targets to address environmental decline and its impact on human health in various areas, including air quality. The government failed to meet this deadline, as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed to parliament last week.
Leading health organisations, including the RCP, and those with lived experience have written an open letter to Secretary of State Dr Thérèse Coffey urging the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to bring forward targets under the Environment Act as soon as possible, with a clear commitment to reduce pollution from PM2.5 to 10μg m-3 by 2030.
The letter reads:
Dear Secretary of State
Re: targets under the Environment Act 2021
We are writing to you as senior health leaders and those with lived experience to express our deep disappointment that the legal deadline for introducing clean air targets under the Environment Act 2021 has been missed.
We welcomed that government committed to set targets under the Environment Act. This Monday (31 October 2022) should have been a day for the UK to be a world leader in its efforts to reduce the health impacts of toxic air and air pollution which disproportionately affect the most deprived UK communities. We urge you to publish these targets as soon as possible, with a clear commitment to reduce pollution from the toxic fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to 10μg m-3 by 2030.
Air quality has a major impact on human health across the entire life course from conception to old age. A joint report from the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in 2016 estimated that the equivalent of 40,000 deaths is attributable to outdoor air pollution alone every year in the UK. It is almost two years since air pollution exposure was listed as a cause of death for the first time in the UK following the inquest into the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah.
We wrote to the Department earlier this year to urge government to commit to reduce pollution from the toxic fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to 10μg m-3 by 2030. We continue to believe that government’s proposal to reduce PM2.5 – one of the most harmful pollutants – by 2040 does not go far enough. We must seize the opportunity to be ambitious and set targets that drive rapid action to address environmental decline and its impact on health.
Analysis published by the Clean Air Fund and Imperial College London indicates that many parts of the UK are already on course to meet 10μg m-3 by 2030. They estimate that each year, this would lead to 3,100 fewer coronary heart disease cases and 388,000 fewer reported asthma symptom days in children. Reducing levels of PM2.5 to 10μg m-3 by 2030 is feasible and would not only deliver important benefits to health, but to the NHS and wider economy, with total economic benefits projected to be in excess of £380 billion.
Air quality is a challenge of the utmost urgency. We urge you to bring forward an ambitious suite of targets, including to reduce levels of PM2.5 pollution to 10μg m-3 by 2030, without delay. The government must send a clear message about its commitments to environmental protection and public health.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this further.
Dr Sarah Clarke, President, Royal College of Physicians.
Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, special adviser on air quality, Royal College of Physicians.
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, Founder and Director, Ella Roberta Foundation.
Dr Adrian Boyle, President, Royal College of Emergency Medicine.
Professor Kevin Fenton CBE, President, Faculty of Public Health.
Dr Adrian James, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Dr Camilla Kingdon, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Professor Martin Marshall, President, Royal College of General Practitioners.
Dr Eddie Morris, President, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Richard Smith, Chair UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.
Dr David Strain, Chair, BMA Board of Science.
Sarah Woolnough, CEO, Asthma + Lung UK.
CC. Neil O’Brien MP, Minister for Primary Care and Public Health