UK climate targets could halve air pollution by 2050

Existing UK targets to cut carbon dioxide emissions will deliver major improvements to air quality, cutting harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions by half by mid-century.  

That is the conclusion of new research released on Friday by scientists at King’s College London, which suggests climate change mitigation efforts could improve public health and extend life expectancies in the UK.

Currently large swathes of urban areas across the country suffer from poor air quality that is in breach of EU limits, in part down to emissions of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter from road transport, wood burners, and industrial activities. The government is under intense pressure from the EU and campaigners to step up its efforts to tackle the problem.

“Our research demonstrates that climate change mitigation policies have the potential to make dramatic improvements in public health through their parallel improvements in air quality,” explained Professor Martin Williams, the study’s lead author. “It is imperative that climate change and air pollution policies are considered together to fully realise the health benefits of both.”

Under the Climate Change Act, the UK has a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. Meeting this emissions target would deliver a 50 per cent fall in nitrogen dioxide emissions, rising to 57 per cent in Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester, according to the study.

Meanwhile, Cardiff and Newcastle could see small particulate air pollution, which can cause serious health complications in the heart and lungs, fall by 42 per cent.

The falls in pollution levels will be primarily driven by a switch to low-emission transport, such as electric or hydrogen vehicles. There are almost 30,000 premature deaths in the UK each year associated with small particulate air pollution from sources such as road transport.

Alongside boosting the quality of life for thousands of people, better public health also promises significant cost savings for government.

A similar study released last week on the impact of climate change policies on air quality in China found that savings derived from improved public health would pay for China’s climate policies more than four times over.

However, the Lancet study warned that although pollution levels would fall overall in the UK if climate targets are met, health inequalities were likely to prevail in poorer communities. It also warned that replacing fossil fuels with an increase in biomass burning could prolong poor health impacts.

The paper was published last week in Lancet Planetary Health.


SOURCE: Business Green