Slow progress: UK to miss legal air pollution targets

The UK government is likely to miss four out of five of its legal targets for air pollution, new government data shows. 

It puts more pressure on the government to increase the rate of progress, which could mean tougher requirements to force through low-emission zones and reduce car use.

The 2018 National Emission Ceilings Regulations set legally binding emission reduction targets for 2020 and 2030 on a number of harmful air pollutants. 

According to the new government data, which has been analysed by environmental lawyers ClientEarth, the UK is set to miss these 2030 targets for four out of the five emissions. 

Based on current progress, the government is to miss the targets for sulphur dioxide (SO2) by 57%, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by 45%, and ammonia and nitrous oxides by 20%.

The data also suggest that the UK has missed its 2020 emissions reduction targets by 12% for PM2.5 and 7% for ammonia, although final emissions data for 2020 will be released in 2022.

The law now requires the government to review its strategy for tackling these pollutants, which is currently set out in the UK’s 2019 Clean Air Strategy, within the next 18 months.

Katie Nield, lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, said: “Once again, the government is falling short of its legal obligations to reduce pollution. Ministers have been lauding the UK’s Clean Air Strategy as ‘world-leading’ but they are not living up to it.

“Now the government is under a legal obligation to revamp its strategy to tackle major emissions sources like road transport but also agriculture and domestic heating – people’s health is on the line.

“They are so far off track that a serious rethink is needed. The government should not have to be dragged to the courts yet again to force it to live up to legal commitments to clean up the air.”

Earlier this month the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the UK has ‘systematically and persistently’ exceeded legal limits for dangerous nitrogen dioxide (NO2) since 2010.

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