Air pollution in Britain is a pervasive killer, but it is also intangible and invisible.
You can rarely see it, you can’t always smell it, and it is unlikely you will ever hear it. It is even less likely, apparently, that you will have heard about it if you happen to be a Conservative Party minister.
The government is back in court again accused of morally and legally failing the British public on air pollution. And it's thanks to EU laws and ClientEarth's commitment to justice that this Conservative administration is being forced to answer for its failings. As we look to the future, it is clear that leaving the EU cannot be allowed to become a means to legitimate the government's continued abdication of its responsibility for this public health emergency.
Air pollution is responsible for at least 50,000 preventable deaths in the UK every year. It bears repeating that these deaths are entirely preventable. Poor air quality is also linked to respiratory difficulties, heart disease, and even, most recently, Alzheimer’s; conditions that can seriously blight people’s quality of life. Everyone is at risk, but children are particularly vulnerable, and if their developing lungs are affected the damage is permanent and life-limiting.
Despite the avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of British people, every year, and an annual public health bill of £20bn, Ministers are still failing to take the air quality crisis seriously. It is important to be clear that ClientEarth is holding the government to account for failing to do the bare minimum, as required by EU laws the UK itself helped to set, to improve the quality of the air we all breathe. The bare minimum.
Where embraced and enforced, EU air pollution limits are helping to prevent thousands of deaths every year. In fact, this government readily acknowledges that it is EU law that has been the driver of any positive air quality action in the UK. For the sake of the health and prosperity of the British people, we cannot risk scrapping these safeguards.
The government must finally face up to its moral and legal responsibility for tackling Britain's air quality crisis. Ministers must, regardless of the outcome of this court case, to make a firm commitment to maintaining and strengthening vital EU air quality laws.