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While air pollution continues to cause 40,000 premature deaths each year, and costs the economy £27.5 billion, 23 years is too long to wait.

The UK has not been complying with EU air quality regulation for years – a problem that’s landed them in court several times. After finally announcing a ban on petrol and diesel cars, the long-awaited measures to tackle this public health emergency are weak and insufficient.

Following a protracted legal battle played out in the high court, the UK government has released a new Air Quality Plan outlining measures to clean up our air – which has been in breach of EU air quality regulations for seven years.

The headline of the plan is a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. But this unambitious target is another lost chance to fulfil the UK’s potential for leadership on air pollution and climate change. The target should be brought forward to 2030 to show the leadership required to meet the UK’s Paris Agreement commitments, and to draw in necessary investment in battery and electric car industries in the UK.

The UK government is providing funds for local authorities to clean up their air, but without proper accountability or a plan on how to achieve this, councils are left to come up with “imaginative solutions” to the problem. But we need more than imagination to tackle air pollution.

We have the solutions at hand. We need:

  • A scrappage scheme which supports uptake of electric vehicles, public transport, e-bikes and car clubs instead of petrol cars 
  • Reforms to vehicle tax which promote electric cars rather than petrol or diesel
  • Clean air zones which charge polluting vehicles and support for local a authorities on implementation

Commenting on the expected release of the plan, Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF said:

"Despite past leadership on tackling climate change, the UK is still lagging behind – India and Norway plan to ban petrol and diesel sales a decade earlier, the Netherlands by 2035. Whilst we welcome progress in linking the twin threats of climate change and air pollution, this plan doesn’t look to be going fast or far enough to tackle them.

"We need a lot more than warm words and good intentions. Governments must lead. The UK Government should be creating an ambitious and far-reaching plan that brings urgency to a problem that’s causing 40,000 premature deaths each year. This includes bringing forward the ban on diesel and petrol sales to 2030 and seizing the industrial benefits of the electric vehicles revolution.

"The UK can and should be a world leader rather than trailing in the footsteps of others; but to do so requires more ambition."

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