Air pollution is estimated to cause 29,000 premature deaths each year in the UK at an average loss of life of 11.5 years. The Independent reports
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels are dangerously high in 16 regions of Britain, exceeding the EU limit which member nations were supposed to have complied with by 2010. Britain is the only nation not to apply for a time extension having failed to meet its 2010 deadline, because the Coalition has decided to fight European air regulations in court while lobbying to have them weakened.
The case comes just weeks after a World Health Organisation review found that exposure to nitrogen dioxide is harmful at even lower levels than the limits currently set by Europe.
Air pollution is estimated to cause 29,000 premature deaths each year in the UK at an average loss of life of 11.5 years. Nitrogen dioxide is one of the pollutants known to contribute to this figure, with links to conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
London has the highest recorded level of NO2 of any capital city in Europe. Mean levels of the toxic gas are not supposed to exceed 40 cubic micrograms over a calendar year, but some of London’s busiest roads are routinely at triple this level.
The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs will argue on Thursday that it is not possible to comply with European limits by 2015, so there was no point asking for an extension to the 2010 deadline. Instead they have made plans that mean most regions (including Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow) will not achieve legal limits for NO2 until 2020, and in the case of London, 2025.
Alan Andrews, lawyer at Client Earth, the campaigning law firm which has brought the lawsuit said: “The science is getting stronger, but the Government’s response is as weak as ever. We know that the higher the levels of nitrogen dioxide, the more people die, and the more people are made sick. So the fact that the Government’s plans won’t achieve compliance with air quality standards until 2025 is nothing short of a disgrace.”
“This Government thinks that laws that are in place to save lives are “red tape”. That’s why they are refusing to act to tackle air pollution, while at the same time lobbying the EU to get the laws weakened. They are on the wrong side of the science, and they are on the wrong side of the law. We need the Supreme Court to step in and force the Government to live up to its legal and moral duty to protect us from air pollution”
Last year the Court of Appeal refused to force Defra to obey EU law and the issue was passed up to the Supreme Court. Though the Court of Appeal said enforcement of the law was up the European Commission, the commission says it has “considerable concerns” about any attempts to circumnavigate their deadlines using a technicality that Defra is expected to argue in court.
Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King’s College London, said: “There’s a public health problem here and the Government need to take responsibility. It’s not good enough to say that we can wait to 2025.”
A spokeswoman said Defra plans to reduce NO2 levels in the “shortest possible time,” adding: “Our air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and most of the UK meets EU air quality limits for all pollutants.”
Case studies: ‘I can’t go down the road now because it’s too polluted’
Francis Davidson, 69, lives in North London and believes her health has been directly affected by levels of air pollution there.
“I live just off the Holloway Road, which has to be one of the worst polluted parts of London – there are lorries coming by all the time. My lung collapses regularly and I can’t go down the road now because it’s too polluted. I can’t breathe when I go out and I have to time it carefully for times when there’s less traffic, like one o’clock in the afternoon.
Unless they do something about it we’re all going to get terrible lung diseases. Children are coughing their heads off and I don’t understand why nothing’s being done. I remember the smog in the Fifties which made them pass the clean air act, because it was obvious fires were making people really sick. They need another clean air act now because the air is not clean anymore.”
Fiona Dawson, 35, from East London is concerned that her eldest daughter, Maya, 3, suffers from asthma symptoms because of pollution.
“I’ve become more aware of air pollution since my daughter has had chest problems. She had her first wheezy episode a year ago and it was really frightening. We’ve been back and forth at the doctors’ and hospitals since then. The doctor said ‘ah yes, we’ve had a lot of people coming in with similar conditions because of the weather and the rise in air pollution’. It makes me very angry that more isn’t being done. Maya will be 16 in 2025 – that’s a whole generation exposed to this and the Government just don’t seem to care at all.”
- It’s the EU against the Government in a day of judgment for air pollution (telegraph.co.uk)
- Thurs 7th March – Supreme Court to decide ‘Who governs Britain’? – Brian M. (inquiringminds.cc)
- Mayor’s sticky solution ‘a £1m failure’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Colorado rule change may relax air pollution reporting requirements (denverpost.com)
- How Does Outside Air Pollution Affect Indoor Air Pollution? (pollutionfree.wordpress.com)
Good news and bad for marine protection: Campaigners dismayed that ministers rejected advice to create 127 zones, which are intended to protect ocean floors. The Guardian reports
The UK’s sealife will be protected by 31 new conservation zones aimed at preventing trawling and dredging destroying life on the ocean floor, under plans announced by the government on Thursday. But ministers rejected advice to create 127 zones, including all the areas where no activity would have been allowed, leading campaigners to describe the plan as “pitiful” and a “bitter disappointment”.
“The UK has one of the world’s richest marine environments, and we need to make sure it stays that way,” said environment minister Richard Benyon. “We have to get this right. Designating the right sites in the right places, so that our seas are sustainable, productive and healthy, and to ensure that the right balance is struck between conservation and industry.”
The 31 new zones will cover an area three times the area of Cornwall but are expected to allow some fishing to continue. An £8m assessment involving the government’s own science advisers recommended 127 marine conservation zones were designated, including 58 said to be severely threatened and in need of immediate protection. But Benyon said: “The scientific evidence base for a large proportion of the zones was just not up to scratch.” He said another £3.5m was being spent on gathering more evidence that could support more zones being designated in future.
“We have managed to do this at a very difficult economic time. It is proportionate and is not going to put anyone out of business,” Benyon said, citing the importance of fisheries, sand and gravel dredging, and marine renewable energy. Environment secretary Owen Paterson said previously: “My absolute priority, with clear instruction from the prime minister, is to do everything I can to … generate wealth and jobs in the rural economy.”
Jean-Luc Solandt, at the Marine Conservation Society, said ministers’ decision to ignore scientific advice was appalling. “It’s pitiful. We cannot delay protection. We wouldn’t stand by and let wildflower meadows and ancient forests be dug up and cleared, and yet heavy fishing gear is dragged across all kinds of habitats, destroying large swathes of the seabed with very little control.” He said the fishing industry would benefit from large-scale protection zones where bottom trawling was outlawed but fishing with fixed nets, pots and lines was allowed.
“There is so much at risk if those 58 sites are not all designated,” said Solandt. “Lagoon sand shrimps, native oysters, black bream, spiny lobsters and short snouted seahorses to name just a few. The populations of these creatures along with their habitat could be decimated in the coming months.”
The Wildlife Trusts said it was “bitterly disappointed by the lack of ambition”. Joan Edwards, at the Wildlife Trusts, said: “When will further sites be designated? How can the government ensure that these recommended sites are not damaged in the coming years?” She said iconic sites such as Flamborough and Studland were missing from the government’s list, and that the chalk reef at Cromer is unique to the UK and that species new to science were recently discovered there.
“You have to have evidence that stacks up or you will be up against judicial reviews [from the marine industry] and the European Commission,” said Benyon. He said he was being criticised by both conservationists, who want more protected zones, and by the fishing and aggregates industry, who want very few: “That suggests I might be getting this just about right,” he said.
Benyon added that 8.4% of all UK waters and 24% of inshore waters already has some protection. The government will consult on the 31 zones and the specific protection they need until March 2103 and could designate the zones by late summer 2013, Benyon said.
- Marine conservation group says UK ‘lacks ambition’ to preserve seas (guardian.co.uk)
- WILDLIFE UPDATE : Fury at minister Richard Benyon’s ‘astounding’ refusal to ban deadly bird poison (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- United Kingdom: Fury at minister’s ‘astounding’ refusal to ban deadly bird poison (independent.co.uk)
- Wildlife Minister Refuses to Ban Deadly Bird Poison (zen-haven.com)
- Environment Minister Richard Benyon’s family estate to destroy 218 acres of woodland (telegraph.co.uk)
- Fury at minister Richard Benyon’s ‘astounding’ refusal to ban deadly bird poison (independent.co.uk)
- Ministers ‘lack ambition’ over marine conservation (telegraph.co.uk)
- Benyon defends flood defence failures (itv.com)
- UK seas to gain 31 marine conservation zones (myoceannews.wordpress.com)
Representatives from 50 nations have met to discuss the draft plan to ban shark finning and manage populations. The Guardian reports on what I believe is a tragedy for some soup! What do You think? Tell us at NAEEUK
The UK-backed draft plan to monitor and manage shark populations is under discussion at the first official meeting of signatories to a landmark memorandum of understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS). A decision is expected on Thursday.
The market for shark fins, used in shark fin soup, is a major threat to shark populations, with fins among the most expensive fish products in the world at $740 (£456) per kilo. The high value of fins compared to the usually lower value of the rest of the shark meat creates an economic incentive for the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea. Several hotel chains in Asia, including Shangri-La and Peninsula, have banned shark fin soup as a result of campaigning for an end to finning.
Shark finning has been banned by more than 60 fishing nations as well as the European Union. But in the EU and in many countries, permits for processing on board can be obtained in some cases, whereby shark fins can be removed from the carcasses and stored separately. A vote in the European parliament‘s committee on fisheries voted on the issue on 19 September, but failed to close the loopholes.
Sandrine Polti, shark policy adviser to the Pew Environment Group, said: “Pew strongly supports the European commission‘s proposal [made in 2011, to end the permits] and urges all parliamentarians to endorse a strict EU policy against removing shark fins at sea, without any more exceptions,”
The plan under discussion at this week’s CMS would commit countries to: “Where not already in place, consider enacting legislation or regulations requiring sharks to be landed with each fin naturally attached.”
Officials from the UK hope to strengthen the language so as to achieve a global, watertight and exception-free commitment to a ban on shark finning. The fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, plunged into a tank of sharks – behind a net – at the Sealife London Aquarium in August to highlight the UK’s opposition to shark finning.
• Stanley Johnson’s new book, Where the Wild Things Were: Travels of a Conservationist, is published by Stacey International