Last reviewed 19 October 2020

Government data on air pollution reveal 75% of reporting zones still have illegal levels of air pollution, according to environmental law group, ClientEarth.

The law group's analysis of the government’s monitoring data shows that in 2019 the UK failed to meet legal limits of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution in 33 out of the 43 clean air zones (CAZ).

Greater London was the worst affected recording an estimated 77µg/m3 of NO2, 1.9 times over the legal limit. South Wales, Eastern, Glasgow, West Midlands, The Potteries and Southampton all recorded NO2 levels above 50µg/m3, against the legal limit of 44µg/m3.

The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown earlier this year did lead to a temporary decrease in NO2 levels in some areas, but according to ClientEarth traffic and pollution levels are already back on the rise in many towns and cities.

Commenting on the findings, Katie Nield, UK clean air lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “Air pollution has been far above legal limits for 10 years and 2019 was no exception. It is clear that the pandemic will not solve the problem in the long-term, with pollution already lurching back to pre-lockdown levels.”

In a separate development, the Good Law Project, which represents Mums for Lungs, Student Action for Global Health and the UK Youth Climate Coalition, have written a Pre-Action Protocol Letter to the Government calling for an urgent review of its air pollution strategy or face a legal challenge.

A new CBI report, Breathing life into the UK economy: Quantifying the economic benefits of cleaner air, highlights growing concerns over the impact of poor air quality on the economy. According to the report, 17,000 premature deaths could be prevented every year and three million working days could be gained by reducing worker sickness absence or absence due to sick children. The UK’s failure to WHO guidelines for “safe” air is costing the UK economy £1.6bn a year, the report claims.

Current government plans will ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2040.