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Action to clean our air needed now

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UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, UKHACC, public health, crisis, air pollution, government action, new Clean Air Act‘Too little has been done to reduce emissions and protect our country’s health’.

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) – the body of UK health professionals advocating for action on climate change to protect public health – is calling on government to implement the biggest shake up in air quality legislation since the middle of the last century.

Air pollution contributes to an estimated 40,000 deaths each year in the UK and costs the economy an estimated £22 billion.

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change wants legally enforced air standards, governed by an independent statutory body to ensure consistently cleaner air across the UK, and the creation of an advisory group to advise government on air pollution, in much the same way as the Committee on Climate Change does on climate change issues.

The call for the implementation of a new Clean Air Act as one recommendation in its new All-Member Report into air pollution which was launched on 29 October.

As well as causing and aggravating respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema and bronchiectasis, air pollution can actually cause developmental problems of the lungs of infants, making them more vulnerable to these conditions in adulthood.

Other effects include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, stroke and dementia.

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change comprises the UK’s leading health institutions, representing over 600,000 doctors, nurses and scientists. It advocates and advises on responses to climate change that protect and promote public health, providing the UK expert voice on the health impact of climate change.

And according to the Alliance, which includes Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, Faculty for Public Health, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet, a new Clean Air Act – whether part of a new environment act or a standalone piece of legislation – needs to reduce air concentration levels to as close to zero as possible in the shortest amount of time.

The first time a Clean Air Act was implemented was in 1956, because the government could not ignore the Great London Smog of 1952, which was caused mainly by the use of coal.

Today, the air pollution is visible and is causing another major public health crisis. This crisis results in 40,000 deaths each year and is caused largely by the use of road vehicles.

And air pollution and climate change are intrinsically linked. Both are made worse by the burning of fossil fuels, which increases the emissions which cause global warming.

Pollution from road transport is a major contributor to our toxic air, accounting for nearly half of the total environmental nitrogen dioxide, and for particulate matter (PM) created when diesel and petrol burn as fuel, and from the friction of created by tyres, brakes and road surfaces when vehicles travel.

Focusing on transport as a major contributor to air pollution, other recommendations in the report include bringing forward the ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040 to 2030, increased investment in active transport to at least £10 per person each year, the expansion of Clean Air Zones in towns and cities, and the creation of an Active Travel Scheme that would provide financial incentives to households and businesses to towards more sustainable forms of travel.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton, director of the UKHACC, said: “The UK’s dirty air crisis has gone on too long, inflicting a large cost on our health, with children particularly vulnerable.

“To date, the government’s response has been too slow and lacked ambition.

“Today, UK health professionals have set out a policy agenda that is sufficient to deal with the scale of the problem, ensuring health is protected and air pollution levels are rapidly reduced, with support being given to those on the front line, including councils and the NHS.

“Crucially, the actions needed to reduce air pollution are also those that improve our health anyway, including through helping more people cycle and walk instead of using cars.”

And Rose Gallagher, Professional Lead for Sustainability at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The UK should be leading the way in tackling climate change and the damaging effects of air pollution, but too little has been done to reduce emissions and protect our country’s health.

“Nursing staff see first-hand patients suffering from exposure to air pollution, often in urgent situations from aggravated asthma in children to exacerbation of long term respiratory conditions in adults.

“UKHACC has made it clear the steps needed to raise air quality standards and to combat climate change.

“We need greater engagement with the health and care workforce, to support them to choose active travel where possible. Employers must be supported financially to make the NHS more sustainable.

“Clean air benefits everyone and will in the long term reduce the burden on the NHS.

“For the future health of the UK, the government’s duty to reduce air pollution must be enshrined in law.”

To read the full report, click here.

Children are among the most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, and the launch of this report coincides with the World Health Organisation highlighting the global impact of air pollution on children. And there is a petition from UNICEF for you to sign and share…

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