orld Health Organisation targets for air pollution could be met across the UK by 2030 if environmental policies are delivered on, a report has said.
The study, commissioned by the Clean Air Fund and carried out by researchers from Imperial College London, found levels of pollution known as PM2.5 could fall to within recommended interim limits for most of the country by the end of the decade.
It would be a “win, win, win”, campaigners said, delivering benefits for health ranging from cutting infant deaths to reducing coronary heart disease, as well as for the economy, and reducing climate emissions.
It only requires existing or planned environmental, transport and clean air policies to be delivered, such as regulations on industrial emissions, vehicle standards and burning wood and coal.
And recommendations by the Government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on switching to cleaner transport such as electric cars also need to be implemented, the report said.
Children across the UK would suffer an average of 388,000 fewer days of asthma symptoms a year, there would be 3,000 fewer cases of coronary heart disease and it would add nine to 10 weeks onto average life expectancy for those born in 2018, according to the research.
“This new research shows us that achieving much healthier air is possible across the vast majority of the UK by 2030 based on policies the Government already plans to implement or that have been recommended by the Committee on Climate Change
The report estimates the move could deliver £380 billion in economic benefits over the next century to 2134, due to improved health, fewer early deaths and greater productivity, more than justifying the £3.3 billion annual costs to implement.
The report also found that even London could dramatically reduce the city’s exposure to PM2.5 if the mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to tackle air pollution were implemented.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline limit for PM2.5 was reduced in 2021 from an annual average of 10 micrograms per cubic metre, known as WHO-10, to 5 micrograms per cubic metre, with WHO-10 now an “interim target” for countries struggling with high air pollution.
The UK’s current target is 20 micrograms per cubic metre for the fine particulate matter, but a new target will be set later this year.
Campaigners are urging the Government to adopt the WHO-10 limit as a legal target to be met by 2030 at the latest, as well as committing to implementing policies that will ensure the UK meets the goal and provide city authorities such as London with funding and powers to tackle local air pollution.
Jane Burston, executive director at the Clean Air Fund said: “This is a win, win, win scenario.
“This new research shows us that achieving much healthier air is possible across the vast majority of the UK by 2030 based on policies the Government already plans to implement or that have been recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.
“The new air quality target for the UK should therefore align with WHO-10 at a minimum, with a view to further reducing pollution beyond this in the future. It is necessary, beneficial and achievable, and will save lives and money.”
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose daughter Ella died aged nine from a fatal asthma attack linked to the severe air pollution where she lived in south London, said: “We are in a public health crisis and we can’t keep ignoring it.
“Nine years since Ella’s passing, the same number of children are dying from asthma every year — even though medications and expertise have improved while smoking has declined.
“Health professionals are clear that air pollution is an urgent but also solvable problem. The goal to lower PM2.5 pollution to 10 micrograms must be the first stop on the way to meeting the WHO’s new strengthened guidelines for protecting public health – and 2030 should be the absolute latest that we achieve it.
“This is about saving children’s lives today, not 10 years from now.”
An Environment Department (Defra) spokesman said: “Air pollution at a national level continues to reduce significantly, with nitrogen oxide levels down by 44% and PM2.5 down 18% since 2010.
“To continue to drive forward tangible and long-lasting improvements to air quality, we are committed to setting stretching and ambitious targets on air quality through our Environment Act.”