The government must devise a new plan to clean the air after losing two court cases. As part of the So I Can Breathe series, we examine air pollution in the UK. Who is most to blame and what should be done?
How bad is UK air pollution?
Air pollution is a major contributor to ill health in the UK, but it’s hard to say exactly by how much.
Dirty air doesn’t directly kill people. But it’s estimated in the UK to contribute to the shortening of the lives of around 40,000 people a year, principally by undermining the health of people with heart or lung problems.
Is pollution increasing?
In cities globally, pollution is increasing. In the UK, air pollution nationally has been generally dropping (except from ammonia from farming).
But despite the overall fall, in many big UK cities safe limits on harmful particulates and oxides of nitrogen – NOx – are still regularly breached. And in London, NOx levels at the roadside have barely dropped at all.
What should we do?
Solving air pollution needs a many-sided approach. The best value for money comes from targeting the really big individual polluters – that’s old buses and lorries in cities. Most big cities are already doing that, although critics say not fast enough.
Insulating homes so they don’t burn as much gas, would save pollution, cash and carbon emissions in the long term – but critics say the government appears to have no strategy for this.
Stopping the spread of wood-burning stoves in cities might help a bit. Cutting pollution from ships would be good in port cities. Reducing use of some chemicals in the home would help a little.