This week Sheffield became the latest city to implement a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) to tackle an estimated 500 deaths a year related to air pollution in the city. It comes against a backdrop of dithering by the UK Government when it comes to tackling what the World Health Organisation has labelled the world’s biggest environmental health threat – air pollution.
Sheffield's Clean Air Zone comes a month after Newcastle and Gateshead implemented their own similar scheme. Sheffield becomes the eighth English city to implement measures to improve air quality and joins a wider group of cities tackling air pollution, including London with its Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). The Sheffield scheme will not charge private cars and motorbikes.
Not all CAZs are created equal; of the eight cities that have implemented one — including Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth, Sheffield, and Tyneside (Newcastle and Gateshead) — only Birmingham and Bristol have chosen a Class D CAZ that charges all vehicles exceeding minimum pollution standards. As the recently published overview of the UK Government Clean Air Zones Guidance reveals, the Government's Air Quality Strategy is delivering a patchwork of action across the country and is in much need of revision.
At the same time, while Clean Air Zones offer solutions to Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) air pollution from motor traffic exhaust — particulate Matter (PM2.5) pollution from vehicle tyres, biomass, and wood burning is an increasingly deadly problem that has risen massively. Wood-burning PM emissions, for example, have soared by 124% in just over a decade.
Earlier in the month, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) revealed that the Ministers ignored the regulator's advice to move faster to meet international targets for reducing deadly PM2.5 emissions.
At the same time, the latest air pollution figures from Defra show why that decision was so reckless — not only is PM2.5 pollution on the rise, it has hit illegally high levels.
PM2.5 is one of the deadliest air pollutants out there, responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths in the UK — and linked to life-changing health conditions in children and adults of all ages.
Currently, the Government plans to meet the World Health Organisation's recommended maximum limits on PM2.5 pollution by 2040. Campaigners and experts, including the OEP and UK100, have long called for the deadline to be 2030.
Toxic air is a public health crisis that needs an urgent and coordinated response. And that means Ministers need to start listening to expert advice. And some of the soundest advice is coming from local government.
Local leaders are closest to their communities and see first-hand the opportunities and challenges of delivering meaningful policies that can help their residents breathe more easily.
Cross-party local leaders from the UK100 network recently wrote to the Defra Secretary of State pledging to go further and faster on clean air in their towns and cities while offering to work hand-in-hand with the Government to ensure that the UK meet WHO PM2.5 limits by 2030, rather than the 2040 target that Government recently committed to.
They have also come together to produce two reports, "Yes We CANZ!" and "What CANZ be done?", on the concept of Clean Air Net Zero (CANZ).
Urgent action is necessary to put in place new clean air legislation and stronger air pollution standards, both brought together in a much-needed revision of the Government’s Air Quality Strategy, last updated in 2011.