The Supreme Court has ordered the UK government to take immediate action to reduce air pollution in the UK.
The Supreme Court said new plans must be introduced to bring nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels within legal limits by the end of 2015. Currently 16 UK cities and regions have been breaching the guidelines since 2010.
Lord Carnwath announced the decision: “The new government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue.”
The government must now “prepare and consult on new air quality plans for submission to the European Commission… no later than December 31 2015”, a panel of five judges agreed in a unanimous ruling.
29,000 deaths are thought to be caused every year by air pollution, more than alcohol and obesity combined. But scientists believe the figure could be higher as it excludes all air pollutants, including NO2, which is predominantly generated by diesel vehicles.
Current plans put the UK on course for meeting the nitrogen dioxide limits by 2030, which means drastic change is needed. Ways to reduce the output include free public transport on high air pollution days like in Paris, more low emission zones and congestion charges across the country.
Road safety charity Brake welcomed the ruling, claiming it is “a right” for everyone to breathe clean air. Campaigns manager Gary Rae said: “The highest court in the land has made it clear that the government must do better when it comes to reducing air pollution. Everyone has a right to breathe clean air; this judgement confirms that right.”
He added: “We think road safety isn’t just about driving safely and legally, it’s about making our streets safe and pleasant to use. It’s also about doing what we can to protect ourselves, people around us and the planet we depend on. A big part of that is driving less, as little as possible, or not at all, if we can.”
A study by the University of Florida found that air pollution actually works out more dangerous than smoking. It is no wonder, then, Boris Johnson wants to introduce an ‘ultra low emission zone’ charge by 2020 that would add £12.50 to the current daily congestion charge in London.
Brake’s 2015 Road Safety week campaign ‘drive less, live more’ highlights a worrying trend in motorists health in general. In fact, four in every 10 trips made by car are for journeys less than two miles. 63 per cent of trips in general, meanwhile, are made in cars.
The average amount we walk has dropped by 27 per cent since 1995, so it’s no wonder a quarter of adults in England are obese ─ a problem that that is costing the NHS a whopping £4.2 billion a year.
Given that estimates suggest the number of cars in the UK will increase by 43 per cent by the year 2035 and that traffic delays will increase by half, there is probably something to be said for walking a bit more. Just try not to breathe in too much.