Mayors and local leaders sign pledge to meet WHO air pollution targets a decade ahead of the UK government

Letter pledges mayors and local leaders to adopt WHO air pollution limits for PM2.5 by 2030.

17 June 2022

Cross-party mayors and local leaders from across the UK have sent a joint letter to the Government pledging to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) targets on deadly air pollution by 2030, a decade ahead of the UK's current 2040 deadline.

The letter to Environment Secretary, George Eustice, coordinated by UK100 and signed by more than 20 mayors and leaders, including Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, UK100 Co-presidents Tracy Brabin and Richard Clewer, and Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green leaders from across the country, is a joint response to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation on "environmental targets".

UK100 is the UK's only network of ambitious local authority leaders committed to clean air and Net Zero. Earlier this month, the network released a new "Clean Air Net Zero" report looking at the need to align clean air and Net Zero policies.

The latest intervention comes just weeks after the UK announced plans to halve the legal limits for the most dangerous air pollutant by 2040; PM₂.₅. Local leaders believe the Government needs to go further, faster.

PM₂.₅ is the deadliest form of particulate matter pollution, a broad term describing the mixture of solids and liquids, including carbon, chemicals, sulphates, nitrates, mineral dust, and water in the air.

PM₂.₅ particles are tiny enough to be invisible to the naked eye and small enough to pass through the lungs, get carried in the bloodstream, and pass into other organs.

Generally, they come from the combustion of solid and liquid fuels, power generation, domestic heating and road vehicles.

Recognising that PM₂.₅ pollution is linked to thousands of preventable deaths every year in the UK, the letter from local leaders calls on the Government to address the "limitations of local authority powers" and introduce a "national policy" to tackle "all of the different sources of PM₂.₅".

The letter also urges ministers to:

  • Bring forward the UK's PM₂.₅ target to 2030 in line with the WHO’s interim guideline and provide local leaders with the powers and funding to meet this target.
  • Put in place a longer term target to meet the WHO’s updated guideline for PM₂.₅ — half of the interim limit.
  • Establish a national public awareness campaign around the health impacts of air pollution and its causes, including domestic wood burning.

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire and UK100 Co-president, said:

“Within West Yorkshire, we’re doing everything in our power to clean up the air – including investing in electric buses, electric vehicle charging points and helping people to walk and cycle more.”

“But one in twenty deaths in our region is linked to poor air quality and that is why it’s crucial that we meet the WHO's target for PM₂.₅ by 2030.”

“As local leaders, we understand the need to work across both political and geographical borders, and we want to work with the Government to ensure our residents can breathe easily and safely."

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, said:

“The passing of the new Environment Act last year should have provided the impetus Government needed to tackle some of the most pressing environmental concerns of our age.”

“Instead, we’re being offered nothing but more dither and delay as ministers set unambitious targets that condemn yet another generation of children to the risk of developing stunted lungs, asthma and a whole host of other health issues.”

“We’ve done the research, we’re taking the world-leading action, we know that here in London we can achieve the Government’s target for PM2.5 a decade earlier than they are proposing by introducing measures proven to be effective. There is no reason for national government not to match the scale of our ambition for the health of Londoners.”

“The setting of targets should never be seen as an end in and of itself, but strategic and measurable targets can make a huge difference in working to protect our environment and our city’s residents from the consequences of pollution. That is why I urge ministers to think again about the scope of these targets and commit to doing much more to protect the next generation from the scourge of toxic air.”

Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council and UK100 Co-president, said:

"It isn’t just our big cities that have air quality problems. There are parts of Wiltshire which are impacted, for example, Westbury where lorries constantly run on the A350 directly outside of people’s front doors."

"Councils have some ability to influence pollution, but we need more support from government legislation to reduce all forms of particulate pollution. Some of our problems are on the A36, a road managed by National Highways, which also means that government assistance is critical to tackling those issues. If we are to properly act as good stewards of the environment we need to look to reduce pollution wherever we can."

Polly Billington, Chief Executive, UK100, added:

“Local and regional leaders throughout the country, and across the political divide, are desperate to clean up the air in their towns and cities. But they can't do it alone. I urge the Environment Secretary to listen to this Clean Air Day plea from local authorities and give them the support they need to take decisive action.

"The Government needs to urgently deliver on its stated goal to meet WHO guidelines while enabling the ambition of local leaders by providing the powers and support they need to implement regional air quality plans that mean residents can breathe easily.

"Action on clean air comes with added benefits. Many of the measures that will help the UK progress on cleaning up our air will also accelerate action on Net Zero, cut health costs, enhance our economy and improve everyone’s quality of life."

In July, UK100 will join the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, to convene a conference of local and regional leaders and mayors from up and down the country to accelerate local clean air and Net Zero progress and turn declarations into delivery.

The Local Net Zero Delivery Summit 2022: From Declaration to Delivery will take place at NEXUS in Leeds on 14 July.