M2 - Clean Air
That this House considers clean air to be a human right; that further action both domestically and internationally is needed to secure it; calls on the government to take action both domestically and internationally to secure it; encourages Ministers to build upon existing efforts such as increased investment in public transport and green innovation as well as promoting transitions to greener tax laws, and work with devolved and local governments in doing so.
Next year will mark half a century since the Clean Air Act was passed by Parliament. Enacted in response to London’s Great Smog of 1952, which killed four thousand people and made ill tens of thousands more, the legislation was a significant milestone in protecting the environment and human health by reducing air pollution.
But pollution still persists. Industry and road transport are the main sources of pollution, but the effect they have is different. Industry is the larger source of NOX and PM10 emissions, but they are located often at the peripheries or far away from major urban areas. Road transport, while contributing less over all, is responsible for up to 70% of air pollution in urban areas and contributes far more to the public’s exposure to pollutants.
Since 1956, successive governments have taken some action to reduce air pollution, but as we have done so we have also learnt more about the devastating impact it is having. The Environmental Audit Committee in 2010 found that poor air quality has similar costs to society as smoking and obesity, in the region of £8 to £20 billion a year. Long term exposure to air pollution shortens the life expectancy of people in the UK by an average of seven to eight months and contributed to more than 28,000 deaths in 2010 according to Public Health England. Air pollution has been linked to asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart and circulatory disease, and cancer. The poorest in our society are most at risk as they are most likely to live in areas with high air pollution, and have pre-existing health conditions that are worsened by it. Climate change will make air quality problems worse.
The costs of inaction are high: shorter life expectancies, worsening health inequalities, and unliveable communities. We cannot let this be the legacy of this generation to our children and future generations. If we want people to live longer, healthier, and better lives then we have to take action to clean our air. One study has found that promoting cleaner air would extend lifespans by 5 times more than eliminating road traffic accidents, or 3 times more than eliminating passive smoking. How can we not act when these devastating consequences are so preventable?
This government has taken some action to promote clean air and tackle climate change. We’ve invested more than previous governments as the Green Stimulus invested £1 billion more in the Green Investment Bank, £1 billion in public transport and buses, and £400 million more for clean vehicles.. We have also started to shift our taxation policy onto a more green footing, with increases in the climate change levy and the carbon price. No longer will we make it easier for fossil fuels to compete against other forms of energy as we eliminated £400 million worth of tax breaks and subsidies, and we redirected £700 million of subsidies for wood pellet burning, we have stripped £1.1 billion out of funding . I am proud of these steps we have taken, but I am also clear that we need to go further. The data shows that for all the progress we have made, we have not made enough. Overall air pollution levels have remained broadly flat over the last decade or so, not decreasing as it must. Therefore, we must all commit to greater action and deliver on it.
This Motion is the first stage of a new revolution in how we tackle air pollution and promote clean air. We need to debate exactly how we tackle the challenges before us. Indeed the threats – both of air pollution and climate change – are so great that no idea can be immediately discounted, and no one individual or party has a monopoly on wisdom. This calls for a great debate, the forging of a national consensus, and the creation of strong partnerships at every level. I hope this debate and this Motion will start the process for all three.
How does this Government believe we should start? Well, Mr Speaker, as the Motion sets out we have to call clear air what it is: a human right. Clean air is something that we should all be able to access because of who we are: human beings. It seems nonsensical that clean air – air that doesn’t harm you or kill you – should be seen as anything other than a human right. Establishing clean air as a human right will focus the minds of all of us, and enable communities around Britain to hold us to account. People should be able to seek change in their local communities to protect their children from the toxic effects of air pollution, and by setting out clean air as a human right we can ensure that. I want the word to echo from this chamber that we will fight every day to for a world where clean air is a human right enjoyed by all and put into practice here at home and around the world.
As much as national government can do, we cannot do it alone. There is a need for comprehensive collaboration and cooperation with local government to tackle poor air quality, especially because they have powers over planning and transport.. Since 1995, local authorities have a duty to work towards improved air quality, and 90% of local authorities with air quality issues are taking steps to tackle it. It is clear, however, that air quality issues are now taking a back seat to other concerns about local government policy. As Secretary of State responsible for both environment and local government, I want to work with local authorities to ensure that clean air concerns are streamlined across all departments. We will also help local authorities establish low emission zones by establishing a national legislative framework, a nationally recognised standard for emissions and vehicle identification, and a national certification scheme of retrofit technologies. Such a policy has been effective in London for reducing emissions of particulate matter. But for many local authorities, these zones are currently too costly to implement. By establishing national frameworks, we will make it much easier and less expensive for a local authority to establish low emissions zones and to prescribe what standard of vehicles would be allowed to enter them. The Environmental Industries Commission argue that not only would this reduce emissions and clean our air, especially in big cities, it will also create new jobs, new tax revenues, and new technologies in the retrofit market. When a partnership between local and national government creates better living spaces and better jobs, how can we refuse? And, of course, we will work with the devolved administrations to ensure that no matter where you live clean air is your right to enjoy and experience.
Air pollution is a global problem – a global public health emergency. It doesn’t respect borders or nationalities; it flows across nations and around the world. Our response has to be similarly international. Air pollution is currently the single largest cause of the death in the developing world — about one in seven people in low income countries die from pollution. Much of the pollution is worsening climate change which will hurt developing countries the most through weather-related disasters and increased water stress. We have to lead the way in making clear that this can go on no longer.
We understand that every developing country has a right to develop and grow and industrialise, but we must also make it clear that the mistakes of the past – the deaths, the pollution, the natural disasters – cannot be repeated. That is why clean air is part of the Sustainable Development Goals with three related indicators: air pollution-related mortality, access to clean energy in homes, and air quality in cities. As part of our obligations to low-income countries, we need to help promote clean air as a human right around the world. That is what the Motion calls for us to do.
Ensuring everyone has clean air as a human right cannot be achieved in one parliamentary term. I wish it could. Instead it will require transformation change over many years, and potentially many governments. There is a need for cross-part consensus on this issue and agreement on the overall framework of action. But in order to catalyse further action on clean air, we must state boldly our intent – and ensure that the British public can hold us to account. That is why I want to establish clean air as a human right and that is why I have proposed this Motion, in the spirit of collaboration and agreement; I hope that all parties and MPs can agree on the need and urgency of this action. I look forward to hearing from all sides of the House.
MP for Hull North (2010 - )
Parliamentary - 7
Media - 6
Policy - 13
I entirely agree with the sentiments expressed by the Right Honorable Lady. Clean air is something every person has a right to, and it is a waste and a tragedy when people's lives are cut short because of air pollution. It impacts our own people, and it even more so impacts the people living in the enormous cities of, for example, China and India, which are striving to catch up to the developed countries of the world and thus are greatly expanding their own industries and energy production.
Mr. Speaker, I see this issue as closely linked with how energy is produced, which also impacts climate change. I would say that reducing our own emissions is a national imperative. Around and under our island nation, we have resources that can provide clean, renewable, inexhaustible energy ... up to 40% of our entire energy needs. I am speaking of tidal and geothermal energy. We have been "considering" their use since as far back as 1973, but we have not yet fully developed these resources.
It is also possible to greatly increase the use of nuclear energy. It appears to me that we can closely work with our friend and ally France on how we can develop safe nuclear energy. It is extraordinary, Mr. Speaker, that 90% of France's electricity generation comes from nuclear power. What can we learn from them?
Regarding transport, I see a future in which petrol stations will be replaced by electric and hydrogen cell charging stations up and down this country. Instead of millions of vehicles producing gases which contribute to air pollution AND climate change, imagine millions of electric and hydrogen-celled vehicles instead.
Mr. Speaker, these are just some of the exciting ideas for a future in which we can enjoy prosperity and clean air, while working against climate change. I offer them for consideration.
MP for Milton Keynes North (2014- )
Shadow Secretary of State for Energy,
Environment and Climate Change (2016)
Time will be allocated for this motion.
Secretary of State for Education
Minister for Women and Equalities
"Meredith Hansen-Charles...is a deity" - Kandler/The Times
I rise today to support this motion and, in the strongest possible terms, urge the House to adopt it. By declaring clean air as a human right, that will send a very strong message to the people of this country and give voters and the press even more reason to scrutinise us on this critical issue and hold us to the promises we make by declaring it a human right.
There are several especially far-sighted forward-thinking components of the motion. That this requires work with local governments and devolved governments is an important issue - in this chamber we can sometimes forget, as an institution, that not every problem will be solved within these walls, that some of the decisions that will save lives, such as local transport decisions, will be taken at a far more local level. It is important we empower communities and ensure devolved and local governments have the resources they need to tackle this crisis. So, I'm very pleased to see that mentioned in the motion.
Also, too, that this motion is an international issue. Pollution does not recognise borders, so we must work together to deal with it. Promoting air quality needs to be at the heart of our foreign policy - in overseas development, in trade promotion and export support, in conflict mediation, in reforming international institutions. These are all very complex questions, and these and many others can warrant fruitful debates in their own right, but it is of course very reassuring to see this need included within the text of the motion and discussed so passionately in the Right Honorable Lady's opening remarks.
Mr Speaker, as the motion recognises, this government has already done much on clean air. We have shifted the tax burden onto the most polluting vehicles and industries, cut hundreds of millions of pounds in tax breaks and backdoor fossil fuel subsidies, and reformed the way air passenger duty works, to cover freight and discourage unnecessary short-term flights. We have invested billions in renewable energy, public transport, clean technologies and energy and resource efficiency, as well as helping communities transition into cleaner economies. We have redirected renewable energy subsidies from wood pellet burning - which has its own severe environmental costs - into truly green renewables. We have increased the resources put into environmental protection and enforcement.
Now, much more needs to be done. The coalition agreement binds the two parties in government to do much more, to continue working on policy initiatives and ideas that we called for in our manifestos - and we are committed to do that. The Right Honorable Lady from Hull North and I have already had many very constructive conversations on this topic, I look forward to many more.
I am reassured to hear the member for Milton Keynes North talk supportively of the sentiments within this motion too. As we all know, the moment we allow this to become an insular party political issue, our efforts are all but doomed to fail, so it is reassuring to hear that the party opposite is engaging in this discussion, is putting ideas on the table. I'm happy, in my capacity as Secretary of State for BECC, to meet with him on those proposals. I think this is one of those issues where we do have far more in common than we often assume.
Graham Adiputera (Lib Dem - Sutton and Cheam)
Deputy Prime Minister
Liberal Democrat Leader
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Climate Change
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Technology
Parliamentary - 36
Media - 53
Policy - 48
Mr Speaker I wish to extend my best wishes to this motion as well and signal my support for it.
It is all very well that we consider motions such as this, indeed I would suggest that it is perfectly healthy for us to do so, however I must associate myself with the comments of my Honourable Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North. We must, as a country, be prepared to expand our renewable and non-renewable but clean energy sources to not only combat global warming but to create a new clean, green economy. The French get 90% of their power from nuclear energy, it is clean, efficient, reliable, and safe. I ask the Government will they commit not only to the Hinckley Point plant but to further nuclear expansion in our country? Such a move would allow us to decommission many of our remaining fossil fuel power plants which currently have to remain online in case the wind drops or the sun goes in.
Mr Speaker I shall be supporting the motion today, but I urge the Government to commit unequivocally to our future in nuclear energy as well as in more reliable power sources such as geothermal, tidal, and even river-based energy sources.
Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire
Leader of the Opposition (2014-16)
Prime Minister (2014)
Parliamentary Experience: Novice (25)
Media Experience: Experienced (62)
Policy Experience: Novice (29)
I move this motion be passed by unanimous consent
Secretary of State for Education
Minister for Women and Equalities
"Meredith Hansen-Charles...is a deity" - Kandler/The Times
I believe that nobody in this House will oppose that clean air is a need during the current times, pollution is a great problem that will punish us with a higher impact of climate change.
However, we can have diferent opinions on how we have to adress this problem, I believe the best one is to invest in renewable energies, making possible for business to invest in the sector with less bureaucracy and less taxes, and gradually replace fossil energies,it’s not adequate to forbid them from the beginning until we don’t have a demand covered by renewable energies supply, another interesting model is the one that defines correctly property rights, because I believe that the model of taxing is not the correct one to protect our jobs and our welfare I will talk about this model in future debates on proposed bills over this issue. However I’ll vote for the motion and expect future bills to develop it to add my proposals and get a consensus proposal.
MP for Richmond Park
Parliamentary: Unknown (8)
Media: Novice (22)
Policy: Unknown (6)