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Improving air quality could boost UK economy by £1.6bn, finds CBI

The UK economy could be boosted by £1.6 billion a year if it met World Health Organisation guidelines for air pollution, a report by CBI Economics has found.

Meeting these guidelines, which are stricter than current UK legal limits, could also prevent 17,000 premature deaths per year, and prevent the loss of three million working days which can be attributed to air pollution.

As a result, Clean Air Fund, which commissioned the ‘Breathing Life into the UK economy’ report, is urging the Government to include a legally-binding commitment to meet WHO air pollution standards by 2030 in the Environment Bill, which is due to be debated in Parliament in the autumn.

Jane Burston executive director of the Clean Air Fund, said: “We know clean air makes us healthier, but our research shows it can make us all wealthier too. If businesses and government work together to ensure clean air for all, we can protect our health and re-energise the economy at this critical time. Ministers must commit to binding targets to cut air pollution in line with WHO guidelines by 2030.”

The Clean Air Fund is echoing calls by 16 other campaigning groups, part of the Healthy Air Campaign.

Currently, the Environmental Bill mentions ‘a target’ for particulate matter (PM2.5), but does not specify what that target will be, or when it will be met.

Other pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are not mentioned in the Environment Bill and the target for PM2.5 will only be presented to parliament in October 2022.

Studies have found road transport is responsible for 27% of the UK’s CO2 emissions, with cars and taxis accounting for 55% of that.

The Government is banning the sale of any new petrol, diesel or hybrid car or van by 2040 in its Road to Zero strategy, and recently held a consultation about bringing that date forward to 2035.

Some local authorities have announced the introduction of Clean Air Zones with the aim of improving air quality locally.

Clean Air Zones were due to be launched in Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, and Leeds in 2020 but have since been postponed until at least 2021, possibly indefinitely, while Greater Manchester’s plans have been delayed until 2022.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said: “I am doing everything in my power to stop Londoners breathing air so filthy that it damages children’s lungs and causes thousands of premature deaths.

“The Ultra Low Emission Zone has already cut toxic air by a third. We want to go further and will be expanding the ULEZ up to the North and South circular roads in 2021.

“We know there is still more to do. Pollution isn’t just a central London problem, which is why I have consistently demanded that the government match my ambition and improve the Environment Bill to include legally binding World Health Organization recommended limits, to be achieved by 2030, and to give cities the powers they need to eradicate air pollution.

“The CBI’s new report shows that cleaner air could boost the economy by £1.6 billion - we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our cities and economies to be greener, fairer, and more sustainable."

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