Cleaner air is one of the major goals within the Environmental Improvement Plan, with the government proposing several major steps to help achieve this:
Despite all this seemingly encouraging for the prospects of seeing a real positive change in our air quality, some of the content within the plan also raises questions.
For instance, the Plan describes how a decline in the five major pollutants has been observed in recent decades, with PM2.5 emissions have fallen by 18% between 2010 and 2020. However, the use of 2020 as a year of comparison is potentially misleading.
A significant (but transient) drop in pollutant concentrations was seen nationwide in 2020 due to the impacts of travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These gradually rose back up throughout the country in the following years. Therefore, using 2020 as the end point of comparison with previous years poses the risk of drawing overly optimistic conclusions regarding our progress toward cleaner air.
The Plan also states that the long-term target for PM2.5 is to have reduced the annual mean concentration to 10 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) by 2040. This target is half that of the current legal limit for PM2.5 exposure. Given that the Mayor of London’s target already was to meet the PM2.5 limit of 10 µg/m3 by 2030, it could be argued that this target is not ambitious enough.
Considering that London is subjected to particularly bad air quality relative to the UK as a whole, this begs the question; if London could aim for a PM2.5 target of 10 µg/m3 by 2030, then why is the 2023 Plan only proposing the modest objective of reaching this same value nationwide a full decade later?