Air pollution action ‘should prioritise children’

Children should be put at the heart of Government plans to tackle air pollution to help prevent damage to their health, a leading charity has said.

Current national action “lacks the ambition and direction needed” to protect young people from immediate harm as improvements to air quality are sought, a new report by Unicef UK warns.

The charity is calling for the Government to commit to legally binding targets to reduce air pollution in the UK, as well as a national strategy which prioritises children and designated funding to help protect young people from toxic air.

One in three children in the UK breathes in harmful levels of air pollution every day, according to research published by Unicef UK last year.

“Children have a fundamental right to grow up in a clean and safe environment that gives them the best possible start in life,” Mike Penrose, executive director at the charity, said.

“The persistent, illegal breaches of air pollution limits across the UK are an unacceptable violation of this.”

The Government’s Clean Air Strategy, promising action to reduce emissions from a variety of sources, was published last month.

However, the Unicef UK report said its targets “fall short of international recommendations”.

The charity has urged officials to try to meet World Health Organisation recommendations for levels of particulate matter by 2030 and to take urgent action to meet existing targets for nitrogen dioxide.

A survey of 80 experts by Unicef UK and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) found 92% believe the public should be more concerned about the impact of air pollution on children’s health.

One in nine (88%) warned that toxic air is already causing health problems for children in their region.

Professor Jonathan Grigg, of the RCPCH, said: “One third of the UK’s children are breathing in harmful levels of air pollution and that puts them at high risk of asthma and lung infections which can be fatal.

“But with appropriate action, these risks don’t have to become a reality.

“In recent years, there has been a very welcome shift towards the prioritisation of child health by our Government.

“I would now like to see this extended towards the prevention of air pollution.”