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Opinião: Breathing clean air is a human right – one that many don’t have in England

Opinião: Breathing clean air is a human right – one that many don’t have in England
Despite overwhelming evidence about the toxic effects of dirty air, the government’s Environment Bill doesn’t do enough to address it. We need a Clean Air Act

Three in five people in England now live in areas where air pollution is above legal limits. Air pollution is a national health emergency, resulting in an estimated 40,000 early deaths each year and costing the UK £20 billion annually.


Wednesday the World Health Organisation has announced substantially stricter clean air standards, which will save millions of lives across the globe from air pollution. These new guidelines take into account scientific evidence since the original air quality standards were first published in 2005.

The World Health Organisation states that “clean air should be a fundamental human right”. The Labour Party couldn’t agree more.

But sadly for some this right is not yet in place. The heartbreaking case of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, shows the devastating consequences of toxic air. The coroner presiding over the inquest into her death recorded air pollution as a contributory factor. It’s the first time air pollution has ever been recorded on a death certificate in the UK.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the toxic effects of air pollution on people’s health and mental wellbeing, the government’s Environment Bill provides little in the way of urgent action to clean up England’s dirty air.

The bill is expected to return to the Commons next month after Labour defeated the government in the Lords to add a robust 2030 target to match the World Health Organisation’s air pollution guideline limits.

After having lost multiple court cases already, the government continue to resist this and are expected to instruct Conservative MPs to vote it down again in October. They prefer to delay the action needed by embarking on yet more consultations and expert committees.

But time is not on our side and we need the government to urgently do more. The new guidelines from the WHO recommend air quality levels for six pollutants: particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

The health risks associated with particulate matter are of the greatest concern, as it is recognised these particles are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream, resulting in cardiovascular and respiratory problems as well as affecting other organs.

A scientific study, publicado no jornal Environment International, found particles can have an impact on unborn children, which then extends long into a child’s life, impacting their health and life expectancy.

But while the government dithers and buries its head in the sand about the scale of our clean air crisis, there is action on the ground. Communities across the country have been making their mark as part of Great Big Green Week. Once again it is the public showing the government how it’s done.

Labour is doing everything it can to put pressure on the government to do more. When in power our party will launch a new Clean Air Act to tackle the blight of air pollution across England. A Clean Air Act would establish a legal right to clean air and would enshrine WHO guidelines in law.

The act would ensure any future government is accountable for air quality and equally importantly, would grant new powers to local authorities to enable them to take action on poor air quality within their area.

The clean air crisis we face affects all of us. In Great Big Green Week and beyond we need the government to take heed and do more to clean up the air we breathe.

Ruth Jones is the shadow minister for Environment, Alimentos e Assuntos Rurais