5 things you need to know about the air pollution debate in Westminster Hall

A debate around air pollution in London, with interventions from many MPs asking for a legal limit to air pollution, and both the Minister and Shadow Minster of Environment, was held in Westminster Hall last Tuesday. Munira Wilson, the Lib Dem MP for Twickenham (London), led the debate. Here are 5 main points discussed:

1) Introducing “Ella’s Law” or the “Clean Air Act”

In her opening, Munira Wilson, started with a tribute to Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah — the 9 year old girl who died because of the air pollution in London, and was the first person to have it written as the cause of death — and asked for the introduction of “Ella’s Law”.

That law would introduce “Legally binding limits on air pollution in the UK, in line with World Health Organisation guidelines” said Munira Wilson. She added that:

“Exposure to the pollution still present in our atmosphere is one of the UK’s biggest public health challenges”

Similar to what the MP suggested, the Shadow Minister proposed a similar act, the “Clean Air Act” that would also implement limits to air pollution according to WHO’s guidelines.

An estimated 4,000 Londoners die, each year, prematurely due to air pollution. Ruth Jones, the Shadow Minister for Environment, pointed out that despite the UK meeting the legal limits for particle matter (PM)2.5, it is only so because “The UK legal limit for PM2.5 is more than twice as high as the World Health Organisation recommendation.”

The Minister, Rebecca Pow, stated that their clean air strategy was welcomed by the WHO as an example to follow. Particularly focusing on reducing industrial pollution to fight air pollution.

2) Air pollution is an inequality problem

Another key aspect presented in the debate, was how air pollution affected Londoners differently, with many MPs dedicating part of their speech to how air pollution is affecting the citizens unequally.

Munira Wilson pointed out the difference between Inner and Outer London primary schools and said:

19 % higher at Inner London primary schools than those in outer London, exacerbating existing health inequalities, and we’ve seen the devastating impact of these inequalities during the pandemic.”

Fleur Anderson went along those lines where the poorest residents in London live on “highly toxic roads”, and are affected the most, despite not necessarily owning a car themselves.

Virendra Sharma added that the health of Black, Asian and Ethnic minority people is often “Sacrificed for the benefit economic or otherwise of others.”

Dr Rupa Huq’s final statement of her intervention were:

“Clean air should be a right, not a privilege”

3) Fewer cars, more walking and cycling with a greener bus fleet

A recurrent message from the MPs was the need to improve how Londoners can move around the city, with a focus on prioritising cycling or walking. Sarah Olney said:

“The main priority is to encourage people to reduce the number of car journey they make, by making alternatives safe and accessible.”

For Fleur Anderson, the message was even more direct, with a bike hanging behind her. The Government aims to double walking and cycling by 2030.

Another point that was brought up multiple times, is the electrification of buses, with MPs saying it would help improve the air quality, as Fleur Anderson said: “The low emission bus zone that goes through Putney high-street helped reduce the NOx pollution by 87%.”

Rebecca Pow, stated that Coventry and Oxford will soon be “electric bus towns” and what can be learned from those cities in order to apply it to other parts in the UK.

4) No to Heathrow’s airport third runway

Many MPs criticised the strategy of Heathrow’s airport to create a third runway and being a non-negligible air pollutant factor for the constituents of some MPs who participated in the debate.

But also because it would not be compatible with the Government’s goal of net zero emission. Dr Rupa Huq said: “Stop Heathrow expansion, it is incompatible with the UK’s net zero targets.”

She also referenced the case of the Charles de Gaulle’s airport in Paris who scraped its plans of creating a fourth terminal, due to environmental concerns.

5) What happened to the Environment Bill?

Even though it was mentioned by a few MPs and the Minister, the Environment Bill wasn’t a main subject of the debate. Rebecca Pow did mention she expects the bill to be passed this Autumn.

The bill is expected to introduce a legally binding target for fine particulate matter, without giving any specific number during the debate.

You can watch the entire debate from the Parliament Live page below:

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Jonathan Touriño Jacobo

Jonathan Touriño Jacobo

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Data Journalist, with an interest in news about Climate/Energy and Politics mostly.