ALMOST 14 months have passed since the Welsh General Election, where every party promised to pass a Clean Air Act if they were elected, yet it was missing in the first Legislative Statement last year.
Despite the cross-party consensus and the fact that a White Paper was published before the elections, the Welsh Government did not act.
Next Tuesday the first minister will announce his 2022/23 Legislative Statement and if this government is serious about tackling air pollution, a Clean Air Bill needs to be in it.
Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to public health, second only to smoking.
At a cost of £1bn per year to our NHS, air pollution is draining our resources, straining our health system, and cutting short almost 2,000 lives a year in Wales.
The evidence of its dangers is overwhelming, and people’s lives are being put at risk every day. It is stunting the growth of children’s lungs, causing new lung conditions and worsening existing ones.
It’s no exaggeration to say that this is a health emergency that demands urgent action. Air pollution is also bad for our planet – causing climate-changing emissions and impacting nature, as demonstrated by the rise in flooding across Wales.
There is also credit to be given but not the drastic action we require.
The creation of the Climate Change ministry, coupled with the first minister’s promise to put the environment at the heart of everything his government does, was strongly welcomed.
The Welsh Government have begun to act on the environment, invested heavily in active travel, has promised major changes to the bus industry as well as the introduction of 20mph as the standard speed limit in residential areas. This will help reduce air pollution and encourage healthier and more active lifestyles, making it safer for people to walk and cycle. Progress has been made, but we are yet to see the delivery of actual results.
The Welsh Government have a duty to protect population health, specifically those most at risk.
Through the Cross-Party Group on a Clean Air Act we have brought MSs together to discuss the public health and environmental dangers of toxic air.
Deputy minister for climate change, Lee Waters MS, has attended meetings with the group and says he wants to find a political consensus. To that I say that we have a consensus already, but MSs need the Bill to be laid in the Senedd, so they can scrutinise it fully. We cannot wait another year.
Healthy Air Cymru, the coalition representing health and environmental organisations committed to tackling air pollution, is clear what we need. We want to see a Clean Air Bill which:
- Enshrines in law World Health Organization air quality guidelines
- Mandates the Welsh Government to produce a statutory air quality strategy every 5 years
- Provides a statutory duty on local authorities to appropriately monitor and assess air pollution, and take action against it
- Introduces a ‘right to breathe’ whereby local authorities are obliged to inform vulnerable groups when certain levels breach recommended guidance
It’s vital that clean air and lung health remain a top priority in this Senedd term. It is fantastic that politicians of all sides are working together on this, but we need a Clean Air Bill in this year’s Legislative Statement. Wales cannot wait any longer – lives quite literally depend on it.
Joseph Carter is head of Asthma + Lung UK Cymru and chair of Healthy Air Cymru
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