Climate Action

UK on track to miss legal targets for toxic pollution

The UK Government is set to miss the legal targets for four out of the five pollutants covered by a crucial piece of clean air law, according to new government data.

  • 23 March 2021
  • Press Release

The UK Government is set to miss the legal targets for four out of the five pollutants covered by a crucial piece of clean air law, according to new government data.

The National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2018 set binding emission reduction targets for a number of harmful air pollutants, for both 2020 and 2030. These pollutants significantly harm human health and the environment.

A new report released by the UK Government contains detailed information on annual emission estimates of air quality pollutants by source in the UK from 1990 onwards. Emission estimates are presented in this report for a large number of pollutants, focusing on the pollutants that must be reported under the NECR and the CLRTAP.

ClientEarth, a chairty that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet, has highlighted that the new data show that the UK is set to miss its 2030 emissions reduction targets by 57% for sulphur dioxide (SO2), by 45% for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), by 20% for ammonia and by 20% for nitrogen oxides.

The figures also suggest that the UK has missed its 2020 emissions reduction targets by 12% for PM2.5 and 7% for ammonia, although final emissions data for 2020 will be released in 2022.

Based on this discovery, the law now requires that the government review its strategy for tackling these pollutants – currently set out in the UK’s 2019 Clean Air Strategy – within 18 months.

Air pollution is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the biggest environmental health risk in the world. It also tops the list of environment health hazards in the UK and is estimated to cause the equivalent of up to 40,000 early deaths a year here. Air pollution also reduces people’s quality of life – studies have linked it to premature births, cancer, asthma, COPD, heart disease and strokes, and there is increasing evidence of potential links to dementia and infertility.

Environmental lawyers say that if it fails to review the strategy, the government could face legal challenge.

Katie Nield, lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, said: “Once again, the government is falling short of its legal obligations to reduce pollution. Ministers have been lauding the UK’s Clean Air Strategy as ‘world-leading’ but they are not living up to it.

“Now the government is under a legal obligation to revamp its strategy to tackle major emissions sources like road transport but also agriculture and domestic heating – people’s health is on the line."

You can read the report by the UK Government here.