Despite the government's lack of action, Oxford City Council working with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth show local Labour governments can make a real difference to tackle air pollution. Cllr Tom Hayes will be speaking at our clean air fringe event at Labour conference. Find out more here
We all have a right to breathe clean air. However, illegal and harmful levels of air pollution are damaging people’s quality of life and cutting lives short. The poorer and more disadvantaged people in our country are disproportionately affected, facing shortened lives and lifelong health problems.
That’s wrong and we need action by the Government to bring pollution down to the lowest and safest possible legal limits. Instead we have a Government falling short of its legal responsibilities, failing to deliver air quality that protects human health.
A strong campaign for cleaner air is underway and we need to continue putting this Government under pressure to take action. That’s why my council, Oxford City Council, has joined with Greenpeace UK and Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) in the first formal cooperation of its kind between a local authority and world-leading campaigning organisations.
A new charter for cleaner air, created by Oxford City Council, and co-signed by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, has just been launched to call on the Government to place the health of communities first. We’re also encouraging other local authorities to join with us. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are mobilising their local campaigning groups around the country to lobby their own local councils and mayors to follow Oxford’s lead, take on our charter, and with our shared voice, call for ten crucial changes from Government to protect human health.
- Show national leadership in removing the most polluting vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities to protect people’s health. Road transport is a major source of illegal and harmful levels of air pollution and local authorities need help to develop Clean Air Zones and, as in the case of Oxford, the world’s first Zero Emission Zone. Up and down the country, people and businesses need Government help to move to cleaner forms of transport.
- Provide greater investment in public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure to give people real alternatives. We need cleaner and fewer vehicles on the road, which will not only help reduce air pollution but also tackle congestion and make our towns and cities healthier, safer and better places to live and work.
- End the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans earlier than 2040. Bringing forward plans to phase out the sale of new diesel and petrol cars to 2030 and ensuring that action is taken now, not in ten years’ time, will help to make cleaner vehicles more affordable and accessible to people and businesses.
- Revise the tax regime and provide fiscal incentives to help people and businesses adopt cleaner vehicles. Local authorities need Government to address perverse policies and encourage the take up of cleaner vehicles, including electric bicycles. Targeted diesel scrappage and retrofit schemes, part-funded by the motor industry, could help people on low-incomes and small businesses access cleaner vehicles as well as, for example, pay for public transport season tickets and car club membership.
- Accelerate the zero emission revolution by investing in charging infrastructure and the supporting power network. The UK’s power network must be ready to support the growing number of electrified vehicles on our roads. Local communities also need investment in charging infrastructure that will support people and business in adopting these cleaner technologies.
- Ensure fossil fuels do not generate the power used to fuel electrified vehicles. The electric vehicle revolution absolutely must not lead to increased power generation from fossil fuels, which contribute to air pollution and climate change emissions.
- Tighten legal limits on air pollution to match safer WHO guideline levels. Current legal limits are twice as high as World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline levels for particulate matter pollution. UK air quality law should reflect the latest scientific consensus to better protect people’s health. The Government should start by adopting WHO guideline levels for particulate matter and commit to achieve these by 2030.
- Improve the national monitoring and modelling of air pollution to show the true extent of the problem. The disparity of data collected locally and the data used to inform the UK’s national plan is concerning. The current national system can often overlook known local pollution hotspots, which then do not receive targeted national support. All appropriate local authority data must be taken into account in national policy formulation.
- Adopt a new Clean Air Act or equivalent fit for the 21st Century backed by an independent watchdog with teeth. In the long-term, a new law is needed to tackle our modern pollution problem and safeguard our right to breathe clean air. We desperately need post-Brexit governance arrangements for air quality, written into legislation, to create an independent watchdog that will be backed up by the courts.
- Launch a national public health campaign and alert system to highlight the dangers of air pollution. Air pollution is an invisible public health problem. The public need to understand how dirty air affects their health and that of their families, as well as how they can be part of the solution. There also needs to be a comprehensive alert system for pollution episodes with clear advice to help people, schools, hospitals and care homes, for example, protect their health and those most vulnerable.
The problem isn’t that life is unfair, the problem is we have a broken idea of fairness. Inequality isn’t inevitable, it’s a choice we make as a society, and that’s the case whether we turn to income or pay, wealth or health. It’s the case when we talk about air pollution. We need to end pollution’s chokehold on those with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, protect the health of everyone from the womb to older age, and transform national policies that force children born this year to face another ten years of poor air quality.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Government can—and should—choose to place the health of our communities first. But they won’t until more of us call on our local authorities to follow Oxford’s example and sign up to the Charter for Cleaner Air.
More information on the Cleaner Air Charter here: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/oxfordcleaneraircharter. If you would like your local authority or mayor to join Oxford City Council, Friends of the Earth (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland), and Greenpeace UK, in calling for these changes, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Councillor Tom Hayes
Executive Board Member for a Safer and Greener Environment at Oxford City Council
Tweets at @CllrTomHayes