After seven years battling environmental lawyers in the courts, the Government has, finally, published a plan to tackle illegal levels of air pollution in towns and cities across the UK. Looking at the plan, it’s no wonder they’ve tried to sneak it out on a day when everyone is focusing on the local elections.
The facts around dirty air are widely known, but worth repeating. Each year in the UK, about 40,000 early deaths are linked to air pollution. It affects us all, but its impacts are not felt evenly. You’re more likely to suffer if you’re young or old, if you live in poverty and if you’re not white. If you’re already ill you’re likely to suffer disproportionately.
There’s no doubt about it: this is a public health emergency.
Today’s announcement comes after a shameless week of ministerial manipulation. First the Government tried to delay its publication, claiming that to do so would unfairly influence local and national elections. That last ditch attempt at inaction was rightly rejected in the high court. Less than a week later, and the day before people across the country went to the polls in local elections, the details of the Air Quality Plan were leaked to The Telegraph by the Conservative party.
So, after all this time, was the Government’s plan worth the wait? Well, no.
In fact, it’s not so much a plan, but a plan to have a plan. It rightly states that Clean Air Zones are the single most effective way to tackle the dirty emissions, but fails to announce even one measure to ensure they are established.
The Tory “plan” wasn’t the only announcement on air pollution today. The Green Party also released our very own “air pollution challenge”, detailing what needs to be done to clean up our air.
First and foremost, we need a Clean Air Act enshrining the right to breathe clean air into UK statute, protecting the health of future generations forever. We must strengthen and expand the network of Clean Air Zones. We must overhaul our transport policy, investing in walking, cycling, and clean, public transport and diverting subsidies away from private transport. Recent figures released by the Government show that the cost of motoring has plummeted while fares on buses and trains have skyrocketed, and such a trend must be reversed.
To help fund comprehensive action, we’ve set out how car companies who cheated vehicles emissions testing over many years will pay for the damage they have caused to our health and the environment. Despite a $14bn (£10.8bn) fine being levied by the United States Government on one car company alone, here in the UK, not a single penny has been paid by the car manufacturers that deliberately cheated the system at the expense of people’s lives across the UK.
And whilst the Government – supported by opposition parties – continues to invest in the dirty fuels of the past, credible action on air pollution must include a huge programme of investment in the clean, renewable energy that we have in abundance. Anything short of wide-reaching action on the air pollution emergency is utterly unacceptable.
The Government’s weak plan condemns thousands of children and families to continue to suffer the deadly effects of this preventable emergency and the fact that they’ve tried to sneak it out on election day is almost as pathetic as the plan itself.
Caroline Lucas is the co-leader of the Green Party
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