Last reviewed 20 June 2022

The Government is set to fail its targets for reducing air pollution and has not communicated effectively with the public on the issue, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO reports that while emissions of most air pollutants have been falling in recent decades, existing measures will not be sufficient to achieve most of the Government’s 2030 air quality targets.

The UK has legal air quality limits for major pollutants at a local and national level. In 2019, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) published its Clean Air Strategy with plans to reduce emissions from transport, homes, farming and industry.

Poor air quality continues to cause damage to people’s health and the natural environment. But progress to cut emissions is too slow, targets have been breached and the public cannot easily find out if there are illegal levels of pollution where they live, the NAO's report says.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, commented that the health risks from particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are a concern and people need to know about it.

“To meet all its 2030 targets for major air pollutants, government will need to develop robust solutions quickly. Those living in the worst-affected areas ought to be able to find out when and how their air quality is likely to improve,” Davies said.

The Government’s own figures show annual death rates of human-made air pollution in the UK are roughly equivalent to around 36,000 deaths every year, with NHS and social care costs for dealing with air pollutants estimated to be around £1.6 billion to 2025.

The Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU), set up to tackle illegal levels of NO2 in the shortest time possible, admits progress has been slow, with 64 local authorities recording potential breaches of NO2.

National Highways also told the NAO that it is limited in what it can do to reduce NO2 emissions on some parts of major roads and motorways and says there are no viable measures to test compliance on some sections of the Government’s Strategic Road Network and that some sections will still be in breach of legal limits in 2030.