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10th Jul 2020

MPs demand new UK air quality watchdog after Brexit

  • Air pollution is a pressing environmental problem in London (Photo: stu mayhew)

Members of the UK House of Commons said on Wednesday (15 March) that the government should set up an Environmental Protection Agency, to make up for the environmental enforcement 'gap' after Brexit.

"The new watchdog must have powers equivalent to those of the European Commission to force the government to act, otherwise action on air quality will be further weakened," MPs said in an inquiry report about air pollution.

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  • MPs want to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars sooner rather than later (Photo: Mike Knell)

The report was the result of a probe by four parliamentary committees, and it said that it was "unacceptable that successive [UK] governments have failed to protect the public from poisonous air".

The United Kingdom, like several other EU countries, have been unable to achieve air quality levels agreed to in EU law.

The countries were supposed to have brought nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations down by 2010, but have not managed to do so.

In January, nine EU states were hauled to Brussels to explain why air pollution was persistent in their countries, and what they were doing about it.

The countries are on the receiving end of the so-called infringement procedure, which could lead to the EU commission referring the countries to the Court of Justice.

However, the UK is heading for the exit.

MPs said in their report it was unclear if any penalties for not achieving air quality standards could be imposed on the UK after Brexit.

But they credited the commission for continued pressure on the UK government.

"There are concerns that EU-exit will negatively affect environmental protection and enforcement in the UK," they wrote.

The MPs said they wanted air pollution standards in the UK that was "at least as high as equivalent standards in the EU".

They also called for more action, since air pollution leads to some 40,000 premature deaths in the UK alone.

It recommended that the automobile industry contributed to a new "clean air fund, following the 'polluter pays' principle, on a scale that adequately compensates for the health costs of diesel pollution".

End of the petrol and diesel car

The report also asked a sooner phase-out date for petrol and diesel cars than 2040.

"The debate on air quality is too often cast as a war against motorists, when in fact regular car users are among the worst affected," it said.

"There is insufficient urgency in current policies to accelerate vehicle fleet renewal," the report added.

"It [2040] is too distant to produce a step-change in industry and local government planning, and falls far behind similar commitments from other countries," it said, calling for a government assessment of what the earliest possible date was for an end to fossil fuel powered cars.

France also has 2040 as its target date, but Germany and the Netherlands are aiming for 2030.

EU accused of 'half-hearted approach' on air quality

European Commission has taken six EU countries to court over failing to achieve EU air quality standards. But what about the other countries where air quality is equally bad - or worse?

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