The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change claims government action on air pollution has been inadequate as current levels pose a “significant threat” to public health

fossil gas transport

Health professionals have called for the UK government’s proposed ban on petrol and diesel cars to be moved from 2040 to 2030 – as new figures air pollution kills 40,000 people a year and costs the economy £22bn.

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) – which represents 600,000 doctors and nurses, and advises on climate change’s impact on public health – has urged for improvements to air quality to be made sooner rather than later.

Other proposals to help reduce air pollution include increased investment in active transport, such as cycling or walking, the expansion of clean air zones in towns and cities, and the creation of an active travel scheme to provide financial incentives to households and businesses to use more sustainable forms of travel.

ban on petrol and diesel cars to improve air quality
Campaigners from Friends of the Earth gather on Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, to demand clean air after the zone failed to meet Scottish Air Quality Safety Standards. (Credit: Friends of The Earth)

The British Medical Association’s board of science chairwoman Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said: “This is an important call to action for the government, which must work immediately to tackle what has now become a very serious risk to public health.

“There is no time to lose to improve air quality as the scale of the problem is such that it requires a significant legislative overhaul if we are to see real lasting changes.”


Why bring forward a ban on petrol and diesel cars?

Transport is now the largest emitting sector in the UK and contributes to 28% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The UKHACC report also claims that air pollution is the second most significant factor determining health in London – second only to smoking.

Professor Jonathan Grigg, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: “Air pollution is an invisible killer in adults, and in children its invisible toxins get into their bodies through the lungs, stunting lung growth, causing asthma, and adversely influencing other organs.

“More than 4.5 million children living in the UK are affected by toxic levels of air pollution and it is a disgrace that, in 2018, parents and guardians have to worry about their children’s exposure when playing outside or walking to school.”

It’s not the first time the government has faced pressure to move forward the ban on petrol and diesel cars.

It launched its Road to Zero strategy on 9 July, in which it first set out plans to place a ban on petrol and diesel cars as well as increase investment in infrastructure and incentives for electric vehicles.

But the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent advisor on a low-carbon economy to the government, claimed the plan “falls short” of what is needed.

A parliamentary select committee also described the current 2040 target as “vague and unambitious” when it met earlier this month.