Oxfordshire County Council leader joins pledge to meet air pollution targets ahead of UK government

Oxfordshire among 21 local and regional authorities to sign a letter pledging to go further than the UK government to tackle the air pollution crisis

Oxfordshire County Council has joined local and regional authorities from across the UK in signing a letter to the UK Environment Secretary George Eustice pledging to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) targets on deadly air pollution 10 years ahead of the Government's 2040 deadline.

The pledge comes as a new report from the National Audit Office, released today, reveals the Government is failing to deliver on air quality standards.

The letter, signed by Oxfordshire County Council Leader Liz Leffman, is a joint response to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation on "environmental targets", coordinated by UK100.

UK100 is the UK's only network of ambitious local authority leaders committed to clean air and Net Zero. Earlier this month, the network released a new "Clean Air Net Zero" report looking at the need to align clean air and net zero policies.

The latest intervention comes just weeks after the UK announced plans to halve the legal limits for the most dangerous air pollutant by 2040; PM₂.₅. Local leaders believe the government needs to go further, faster.

PM₂.₅ is the deadliest form of particulate matter pollution, a broad term describing the mixture of solids and liquids, including carbon, chemicals, sulphates, nitrates, mineral dust and water in the air.

PM₂.₅ particles are tiny enough to be invisible to the naked eye and small enough to pass through the lungs, get carried in the bloodstream, and pass into other organs.

Generally, they come from the combustion of solid and liquid fuels, power generation, domestic heating and road vehicles.

Recognising that PM₂.₅ pollution is linked to thousands of preventable deaths every year in the UK, the letter from local leaders calls on the government to address the "limitations of local authority powers" and introduce a "national policy" to tackle "all of the different sources of PM₂.₅".

The letter also urges ministers to:

  • Bring forward the UK's PM₂.₅ target to 2030 in line with the WHO’s interim guideline and provide local leaders with the powers and funding to meet this target.
  • Put in place a longer term target to meet the WHO’s updated guideline for PM₂.₅ — half of the interim limit.
  • Establish a national public awareness campaign around the health impacts of air pollution and its causes, including domestic wood burning.

Councillor Leffman said: "I signed the letter on behalf of my council because it is crucial we meet the WHO's target for PM₂.₅ by 2030. We are doing everything within our power to clean up the air in Oxfordshire, but there is no safe limit — and emissions above the WHO guideline are deadly. We want to work with the government to ensure our residents can breathe easily and safely."

Polly Billington, Chief Executive, UK100, added: “Local and regional leaders throughout the country, and across the political divide, are desperate to clean up the air in their towns and cities. But they can't do it alone. I urge the environment secretary to listen to this Clean Air Day plea from local authorities and give them the support they need to take decisive action.

"The government needs to urgently deliver on its stated goal to meet WHO guidelines while enabling the ambition of local leaders by providing the powers and support they need to implement regional air quality plans that mean residents can breathe easily.

"Action on clean air comes with added benefits. Many of the measures that will help the UK progress on cleaning up our air will also accelerate action on net zero, cut health costs, enhance our economy and improve everyone’s quality of life."

In July, UK100 will join the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, to convene a conference of local and regional leaders and mayors from up and down the country to accelerate local clean air and net zero progress and turn declarations into delivery.

The Local Net Zero Delivery Summit 2022: From Declaration to Delivery will take place at NEXUS in Leeds on 14 July.

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