On Tuesday 9 February Somerset Labour members met with Welsh Labour MP Geraint Davies to look at the subject of ‘Air Pollution – the silent killer in Somerset & how we can save thousands of UK lives by WHO air quality limits in the Environment Bill’
The meeting included a discussion on the ‘campaign to include World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines as limits into the Environment Bill’.
Geraint Davies, MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution. Geraint serves on the Council of Europe Health & Sustainable Development Committee and UK Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. He presented the Clean Air Bill and leads the parliamentary campaign to have WHO guidelines included in the Environment Bill with a duty on all departments to improve air quality outside and in. Geraint said “I’m pleased to have support from academics and experts in Swansea, as well as MPs across the House, for my Clean Air Bill.
Several cities in the UK have exceeded air pollution limits set by the World Health Organisation, including Swansea. My Bill sets out a blueprint for a new air quality strategy to tackle the massive public health risk that air pollution represents. The Bill would:
- Require the government to set and enforce air quality targets;
- Tighten vehicle emissions targets;
- Protect children and the elderly from harmful emissions;
- Provide more pedestrianised areas and cycle lanes;
- Promote the use of a fiscal strategy to tackle air pollution, including through the use of diesel scrappage schemes.
My Bill has cross-party support from over twenty MPs including the Lib Dem’s Tim Farron, the SNP’s John McNally, and the Conservative MP Derek Thomas.
As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I asked Secretary of State Michael Gove whether he thought it was time to bring forward a holistic Clean Air Act. He agreed that the government should create new legislation to tackle our toxic air. My Clean Air Bill provides the blue print for this legislation and the government should support it if they mean what they say about leaving the environment in a better state for future generations.”
Jemima Hartshorn who also spoke,heads up Mums For Lungs a grass roots community organisation which campaigns #VoteCleanAir to improve public health through improving air quality. Jemima is at the helm of the campaign to get air pollution guidelines into law and said “Mums for Lungs was established when human rights lawyer Jemima Hartshorn went on maternity leave with her first child. “
Jemima was living in Brixton at the time, and as she was pushing her son in the pram she started thinking about air pollution. She continued ‘The more I started reading, the more I realised that very little was being done to address it.’ she said. I come from a background where I always try to be solution-focused about the problems I see, so when I started to see how little was being done to tackle air pollution I set up Mums for Lungs with some other parents.’
Earlier this year Mums for Lungs launched their Ditch Pollution Campaign to encourage parents and children to walk, cycle or scoot to school when classes resume in September. Jemima commented ‘We are in the midst of a respiratory pandemic and as a result, pollution has dropped, traffic has decreased and roads have become safer. But we have also been reading lots of articles explaining that air pollution is likely to increase above pre-COVID levels with capacity on public transport being low and more people choosing to travel by car. Therefore, with the Ditch Pollution campaign we wanted to encourage people to be mindful when they return to “normal”, we want people to stop and consider what air pollution is doing to our children and our own health.’
Over the past three years, Mums for Lungs have launched various successful campaigns to raise of awareness of air pollution, but according to Jemima, the biggest success is the work they have achieved in the borough they started campaigning in, Lambeth.
‘Lambeth has really gone from being a borough that is doing very little to address concerns around travel and air pollution to one where air pollution has significantly decreased, and I think that’s our biggest success.
‘But I am not very good at looking back, I’m always looking forward and thinking about what’s next.’
Jemima made clear that although action on air pollution has certainly improved since Mums for Lungs started, it is by no means enough.
‘The government have promised £2bn for cycling and £27bn for roads. That is the beginning and the end of what I have to say.’
She says we need more dis-incentivisation for driving and more active encouragement for cycling by making it safer.
‘I have cycled in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Brussels and I have never felt unsafe on a bike.
‘I’ve cycled to night clubs in mini skirts and I have cycled to courts in high heels when I was a prosecutor.
‘Here in London I only started cycling a few months ago even though I’ve been living here for eight years. There are too many cars, they are often speeding and London just doesn’t take care of its cyclists.
‘Cycling has such a difference reputation here compared to other countries and that really has to change.
‘When you get into your car you need to be really aware of the consequences – we need a society where active travel and public transport are normal.
‘We cannot have more children growing up with stunted lungs from air pollution.’