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This briefing has been prepared in advance of the debate scheduled to take place in the House of Lords on 3 July on the following motion:

Lord Borwick to move that this House takes note of the case for improving air quality in London.

The UK is bound by EU laws that regulate air pollution. These laws place limits on the level of harmful pollutants permitted in the atmosphere, and require member states to publish plans to bring emissions within these limits. Pollutants include microscopic dust particles (particulate matter) and harmful gases such as oxides of nitrogen, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitric oxide (NO). In recent years greater attention has been paid to NO2 levels in urban areas, the most common source of which is diesel engine road vehicles. In 2015, London did not comply with legal limits on two of three measures of levels of NO2. In 2015, King’s College London published a study which indicated that air pollution in London was at levels which were more detrimental to health than previously thought, amounting to a mortality burden of the equivalent of nearly 9,500 people per year.

In order to reduce air pollution in London policies are being pursued to reduce emissions, primarily from road transport. These include: an Ultra Low Emissions Zone; new standards for taxis; a £10 ‘toxicity charge’ on the oldest and most polluting vehicles; and twelve ‘Low Emission Bus Zones’.

The environmental charity ClientEarth has won two legal challenges against the Government in relation to non-compliance with air quality laws. As a result of the first case the Coalition Government was obliged to publish a plan detailing how compliance would be achieved, a key part of which is the introduction of Clean Air Zones in urban areas.

Examining the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on the environment, a House of Lords European Union Committee report highlighted that the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union have had a strong impact in ensuring the UK’s compliance with EU legislation that affects environmental protection. While some witnesses expressed concern that enforcement would be more difficult after the UK leaves the EU, Andrea Leadsom, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that UK courts would be able to enforce relevant legislation.


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