UK air pollution

The British Medical Association has called on the UK Government to address the issue of air pollution in the UK (Practice Business). 

In the BMA press release, they state that “It is crucial the Government commits to transitioning to renewable energy sources, invests in clean energy, and transforms urban environments not only to improve air quality but also enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of the population.” We can only agree. 

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change policy brief (PDF) has made three recommendations:

  1. End all subsidies, investments, new licences and consent for fossil fuels while ensuring a just transition to renewable energy
  2. Adopt a legally-binding commitment to reducing fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) in the UK to 10 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) by 2030 and set a future objective to achieve the WHO recommended guideline of 5 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3)
  3. Create equitable access to green space in the UK by prioritising the protection and development of high-quality natural places to ensure all people have a local park within a 10-minute walk of their home

The Government admits that “In the UK, air pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health. The annual mortality of human-made air pollution in the UK is roughly equivalent to between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths every year”. The guidance goes on to detail the costs of medical care to be £1.6 billion. 

The Lancet Countdown policy brief estimates that in 2020, approximately 4.7 million deaths globally were caused by air pollution. 1.3 million deaths globally could be attributed directly to fossil fuel combustion. They go on to say that

“A transition from fossil fuels to renewables is not only critical for climate change mitigation, but could also contribute towards universal, affordable and clean energy, reduce air pollution, and decrease dependence on international markets and foreign policies.” 

Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change policy brief

In our previous blog post we demonstrated how UK electricity generation is still dependent on fossil fuels. In 2021, according to Practice Business, the UK Government continued to invest more in fossil fuel-based energy than clean energy sources. 

With all eyes on COP27 in the next few weeks, we need the UK government to show that they are ready to take action on climate change and air pollution is part of this. 

As businesses and as individuals, we can support projects that will promote renewable energy. We can buy our energy from clean suppliers. We can invest, where applicable, in clean energy projects. We can install solar energy panels. We can conserve energy use, buy less and reuse more. We can buy finance and insurance from ethical companies. 

The Lancet Countdown policy brief also highlights particulate matter of less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Particulate matter of less than 2.5 micrometers are tiny particles (or droplets) in the air of less than 2.5 microns in width. The reason they are so dangerous is that tiny particles can get deeply embedded into the lungs or enter the bloodstream. 

These particles come from natural sources (like seaspray and pollen), are transported in the air from overseas countries, or are from sources like burning wood and tyre braking emissions. 

Currently, the UK has reduced annual average concentrations. PM2.5 at urban background sites has reduced from 12.4 µg/m3 in 2009 to 7.9 µg/m3 in 2021. PM2.5 at roadside has reduced from 12.8 µg/m3 in 2009 to 8.3 µg/m3 in 2021. There has been a slight increase from a low of 8.04 µg/m3 in 2020. 

The current Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 impose rather generous limits on PM10 and PM2.5. PM10 is set at 40 µg/m3 as an annual average and PM2.5 at 20 µg/m3 as an annual average. So the UK is well within legal limits and is also making progress towards the WHO guideline. More can be done. 

According to ONS data, the average distance to a park, public garden or playing field is 414.49m. This ranges from 385.46 metres in England to 715.37 metres in Scotland. That’s about a 6-9 minute walk, so on this front the average UK resident is within 10 minutes of an outdoor space. This is dependent on maintaining these sites. 

There is much that can be done to prevent air pollution. We can do our part by supporting organisations, like the BMA, who are lobbying for change. We can also make changes in our homes and businesses to use clean energy whenever possible. We can aim to reduce our own emissions. We can encourage local governments to preserve green spaces.

If you need support in building a more sustainable business or organisation and want to be part of a like minded community, join Blue Patch today.

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.