The UK Government today published their plans to tackle the country’s air pollution crisis. They were ordered to reveal plans by the High Court due to the threat toxic air poses to health of UK citizens.

Air quality is a devolved issue and the Scottish Government is legally responsible for meeting the EU limits in Scotland and for the Scottish elements of these UK plans.

Reacting to the air quality plans, Emilia Hanna, Air Pollution Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland said:

On the Scottish Government’s input into the plans:
“It is unacceptable that the Scottish Government is still only aiming to have compliant air quality by 2020, when last year the High Court ruled that plans had to be as ambitious as possible to secure clean air as quickly as possible. The Scottish Government plans just one Low Emission Zone by next year, yet people suffer from illegal air pollution in each of our major cities. Scotland’s input into the plans has been half-hearted, and although the UK-wide plans are not good enough, the Scottish Government must not be allowed to use this to deflect from its own failures.”

“The vast majority of polluting Nitrogen Dioxide in Scotland’s towns and cities is produced locally, by the traffic driving on our streets, and tackling it is the legal responsibility of the Scottish Government.

“We have illegal and unsafe levels of air in four of six Scotland regions that are monitored under European law, and the Scottish Government was obliged to come up with new ways to protect our health, but it has utterly failed to do so. It has not revised its own air quality strategy, ‘Cleaner Air for Scotland,’ and key parts of that Strategy are now over a year behind schedule.

“There is a worrying lack of detail on how the promised Low Emission Zone will be funded, how bus users will be protected, and when it will roll out more zones to all of Scotland’s cities.

“As a result of the Scottish Government’s foot-dragging on clean air, people will continue to die prematurely from air pollution. Over 2000 people die early from exposure to fine particles in Scotland, and pollution has been linked with heart attacks, strokes, cancers, and even mothers giving birth to babies prematurely and with reduced birthweights.

On what should be done:
“Cars are not the solution to air pollution and climate change: walking, cycling, and using public transport are. Only a big emphasis on supporting sustainable transport will bring about the seismic shift we need to cut unnecessary car use and help the millions who don’t have access to a car. In Scotland, this means creating more low emission zones, more support for walking and cycling, and fixing the mess of our bus services through introducing re-regulation.

On local elections:
“It is apt that this strategy is unveiled as new Councillors are being elected across the country. Many local council party manifestos made welcome pledges to create Low Emission Zones and more walking and cycling paths, and we look forward to these promises being delivered as they get down to work. The Scottish Government must provide the support that cash-strapped councils need to deliver these cleaner, greener transport options.

Parties who have committed to introducing Low Emission Zones ahead of the elections were as follows:

Glasgow: The SNP and Greens pledged to bring the first LEZ to the city.
Edinburgh: The Labour, Green and Lib Dem manifestos aim for a LEZ for the city, and although the SNP manifesto does not, SNP representatives have said elsewhere that they back an LEZ for the capital.
Aberdeen: Labour made a commitment to a Low Emission Zone, and the SNP to investigate “Air Quality Zones”


Notes to Editors

[1] The newly published air quality plans can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2p467c2. The Scottish input is at page 32, paragraphs 89-95. It barely differs from the earlier 2015 plan which was deemed illegal, with the only difference being that the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government commits to establishing Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone by 2018. The previous plan can be viewed at http://bit.ly/1ZfEN2P, from page 15 (paragraphs 57- 61).

[2] Technical note on EU law and the legal ruling:

Scotland is split into 6 “zones” which are required to comply with air quality limits.
4 of these zones are breaking the European legal safety limit for the annual concentrations of Nitrogen Dioxide. These zones are: Glasgow Urban Area, Edinburgh Urban Area, Northeast Scotland (a region which encompasses Dundee and Aberdeen), and Central Scotland (which covers most of the central belt and Fife)
The legal safety limit should have been achieved in 2010 for Glasgow. The other three zones were granted a 5-year extension by Europe, so have been in breach since 2015. (See Art 13 and Annex XI Ambient Air Quality Directive 2008/50/EC: http://bit.ly/2pcQ5rq)
European law required that if the deadline was missed, then air quality plans must have been produced to show how the Nitrogen Dioxide legal limit could be achieved as quickly as possible in order to protect public health.
Plans were produced in 2011 were deemed legally inadequate, and new plans were ordered by the Supreme Court in April 2015 following legal action by environmental lawyers at ClientEarth.
Revised plans were issued December 2015 (see http://bit.ly/1OXacQ2) but were yet again deemed illegal by the High Court in November 2016 due to still being insufficiently ambitious, following a subsequent legal action by ClientEarth (http://bit.ly/2ezKXsT).
The High Court specifically stated that aiming for compliance by 2020 was underambitious and illegal.
Today’s plans should have shown a greater level of ambition than the 2015 plans to tackle harmful pollution but Scotland’s input is almost identical to the 2015 plans, with the only difference being that it includes a commitment to introduce Scotland’s first LEZ by 2018. Scotland’s input also states that the National Low Emissions Framework will be consulted on later this year, which is over a year behind what was originally promised.
Although the plans are coordinated by Defra, air quality is devolved the Scottish Government so it is therefore responsible for the Scottish inputs into the plans. The Scottish input includes information on Cleaner Air for Scotland as well as the four plans relating to Glasgow Urban Area, Edinburgh Urban Area, Northeast Scotland and Central Scotland.

[3] Health effects of air pollution:

Nitrogen Dioxide is a poisonous and toxic gas responsible for respiratory problems, and is emitted mainly by motor vehicles, so its presence indicates other harmful vehicle emissions such as Particulate Matter, which has been linked with heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes, and dementia.
Long term exposure to air pollution, even at levels lower than the legal limits, increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes: http://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.f7412
Long term exposure to air pollution at levels lower than the legal limits, in pregnant mothers, can cause babies to be born with low birthweights: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(13)70192-9/abstract
Exposure to high levels of air pollution can reduce children’s lung function: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/laura-donnelly/11953613/Air-pollu…
Air pollution from fine particles (PM2.5) causes over 2000 deaths every year in Scotland: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil…

[4] Friends of the Earth Scotland is:

* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 75 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups. www.foe-scotland.org.uk