23. 01. 2016

The post-Paris scene, part 7: A Polluted Postscript

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On my last morning in Abu Dhabi, looking out of the window of one of this bewildering city’s multiple high-rise hotels, I watched a blanket of sea mist flooding in across the city until all was engulfed. As it cleared away, over the next hour or so, a brown toxic haze took its place all along the horizon – by far the worst air pollution I’ve ever seen in this part of the world.

But there are very few cities anywhere in the world that are now free of this particular environmental scourge. The World Health Organization has described this as a “global public health emergency”, causing around 3.3 million premature deaths ever year – a figure that will double by 2050 unless drastic remedial action is taken.

This is how Maria Neira raised the alarm just a few days ago:
“This is one of the biggest problems we are facing globally, with horrible future costs to society. Air pollution leads to chronic diseases which require hospital beds. Before, we know that pollution was responsible for diseases like pneumonia and asthma. We now know that it leads to heart and cardiovascular diseases too – even dementia. We’re storing up problems. The cost to society will be enormous.”

Even in the EU, chronic air pollution is now seen as the biggest single environmental health risk. And as you can no doubt imagine, the UK is one of the worst offenders, with 29,000 premature deaths a year caused by the build-up of NO2 emissions from millions of diesel vehicles, as well as from constructions sites using diesel generators and other local pollution sources. David Cameron once demonstrated just how concerned he was about all this by describing the crisis as “a naturally occurring weather phenomenon”, and has done nothing to force the pace on the introduction of Clean Air Zones.

It’s now pretty bad in a number of large cities in the UK, but particularly in London. Several streets in the capital had already exceeded their annual NO2 limit just a few days into 2016.

Last year, the wonderful ClientEarth won a significant victory in the Supreme Court, forcing Defra to bring forward new plans for introducing these Clean Air Zones. These plans were sneaked out just before Christmas, and are, in brief, completely pathetic – with a deadline set for 2020, which means that limits which were meant to be complied with more than ten years ago won’t actually be met until 2025!

ClientEarth is now having to go back to court:
“Our Supreme Court victory in 2015 forced the Government to come up with plans to get air pollution within legal limits as soon as possible. Those plans fall well short, and Londoners now face another decade of choking on dangerously polluted air if Ministers refused to take the bold steps needed to solve this deadly problem. In the coming months, we will take the Government back to court. In the meantime, we need to hear from all Mayoral candidates about how they’re going to solve this public health crisis. Warm words and empty rhetoric won’t save lives.”

All part and parcel of the environmental horror story unfolding here in the UK.
 

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