Birmingham is among the 16 UK cities, including London and Glasgow, that have been issued with a final warning to combat lethal air pollution levels
The European Commission has told the British Government to act fast on clean air measures, or the EU Court of Justice will act.
According to Public Health England, respiratory and cardiovascular disease are responsible for 520 deaths a year in Birmingham alone, while around 40,000 early deaths in the UK can be linked to air pollution.
Four out of five hazardous nitrogen oxides from traffic are emitted by diesel cars, and Dr. Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation agrees that transport emissions are ‘the main culprit’ of high pollution levels especially those from diesel engines.
She says that ‘Scrappage incentive schemes will help drivers to move to cleaner vehicles, without being financially penalised.’
Birmingham City Council is currently developing its plans for a Clean Air Zone, to be introduced in 2019, with high emission vehicles such as lorries and buses paying to enter the city centre. The council faces a £60m fine if it doesn’t successfully control pollution, and council bosses have not dismissed further measures if the Clean Air Zone fails.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has promised double funding towards air quality in London over the next five years, he is also expected to institute a daily ‘toxicity charge’ on diesel cars manufactured before 2005 that enter central London.
The mayor has also called for the government to offer an incentive for people to get rid of their old diesel fuelled cars by offering a discount on a new replacement.
This is an issue that is also being considered in wider Europe. In Paris, the city has instituted free public transport days and has the aim that diesel cars will be banned by 2025.
The Commission’s warning has sparked calls from organisations for an UK ‘Clean Air Act’ to reduce pollution levels. Friends of the Earth say the act would be necessary to protect the public from air pollution before the UK exits the EU to help safeguard existing legal protections put in place by the Union.
The British government claims to be committed to reducing pollution despite the Brexit vote. A spokesman has said: ‘we have committed more than £2 billion since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles and support greener transport schemes and set out how we will improve air quality through a new programme of Clean Air Zones.’
A new air quality plan is expected to be introduced by the government in April this year. However, Theresa May has spoken about the UK becoming a low tax country after the UK leaves the European Union which has caused concern on the future of Britain’s environmental protections and standards.
When we spoke to University of Birmingham students about the issue, one second year student told Redbrick that, ‘I am really concerned about it. The government definitely has to start paying more attention to these long-term issues’.
The EU report also identified that the UK is failing in the application of laws on air quality, species conservation, and clean water standards.
It remains to be seen what the long-term effects of the problem and hopefully the solutions will be.