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Pollution and human rights report: UK fail

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UN report, pollution, hazardous waste, duty of protection, UK government,Report is ‘a damning and shameful indictment of the government’s lack of action on air quality’.

A UN special rapporteur has found that the UK government has violated its obligation to protect people’s lives and health.

The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights related to toxic waste, Baskut Tuncak, undertook an official visit from 17 to 31 January 2017, to monitor and assess steps taken by the government to protect the human rights implicated in the management of hazardous substances and wastes.

In the resulting  report for the UN, he assessed how well human rights such as the rights to life, health and safe housing are infringed by pollution, instead of being protected.

The groups worst affected by air pollution, he said, were children, older persons and people with pre-existing health conditions, who are at grave risk of mortality, morbidity and disability, and there are magnified risks among the poor and minorities.

Tuncak also warned of the risk that fracking, soon to start in Lancashire, posed to safe water.

“UK regulations on fracking are complex, split between several regulators and do not appear to be sufficiently stringent,” he said. “Fragmented policymaking allows for loopholes.”

He also, the Guardian reported, asks the UK government to “reconsider national plans to increase reliance on nuclear energy, considering that long-term storage of nuclear waste is uncertain and poses significant risks to the population.”

And he criticised the UK’s cuts to legal aid and protection from legal costs which make it “extremely challenging” for victims of environmental harm to seek redress in the courts.

The government’s air pollution plans have already been ruled illegally poor twice.

The government only released the second ‘plan’ when it was forced to by the courts – and it was promptly condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors.

Air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 early deaths every year in Britain, and was declared a “public health emergency” by MPs in 2016.

Air pollution is worst overall in London, but many other places such as Leeds, Birmingham, Bournemouth and Northampton have illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide emitted by diesel vehicles.

Ipswich has higher levels of particulate matter than London.

Sue Hayman MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, commenting on Tuncak’s report, said it was a damning and shameful indictment of the government’s lack of action on air quality and a stark warning ahead of Brexit of its flimsy promises on the future of environmental protections.

“The UN Special Rapporteur raises some extremely grave concerns in his report,” Hayman said, “most notably regarding Michael Gove’s ‘worrying’ lack of commitment to environmental protections post Brexit, the crippling impact of austerity on the UK’s ability to monitor and enforce environmental standards, and the disregard for the health of UK citizens.

“By simply blaming our membership of the EU on the long list of failings outlined in the report, the response from the government could not have been more inappropriate or cynical.

“Michael Gove must urgently set out his response to the concerns raised in this report and take stronger and more immediate action on all areas of public health and environmental concern that have been highlighted.”

And Labour MP Mary Creagh, who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “It is vital the government passes a new environmental protection act as soon as possible to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.”

Baskut Tuncak backs that call in his report, which was presented to the UN human rights council this week.

To read the full report, click here.

And please forward it to your MP.

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