By Lydia Jackson
It has emerged recently that Britain has not been complying with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution levels set by the European Union and has been issued a final warning to comply with quotas or else face trial at the European Court of Justice.
Nitrous oxide is emitted from factories and car fumes, particularly those from diesel engines, and can cause serious health implications to those who are overexposed to it.
Under EU law countries exceeding limits are required to implement air quality plans in order to reduce levels.
The UK has two months to provide Brussels with details on how it will meet regulations or else face the implementation of heavy fines until it begins to adhere to acceptable levels.
Fines could include an initial lump sum, plus a five-figure sum per day until an agreed level or plan is made.
The country has been in breach of quotas since 2010, and London exceeded its 2017 annual limit within the first five days of the year.
Catherine Bearder, Liberal MEP and environmentalism advocate has voiced that “London has been busting the regulations for years and that means there are people dead who shouldn’t be”.
Nitrous Dioxide and other such pollutants are attributed to around 50,000 premature deaths annually in Britain, with an estimated 5 per cent of total deaths in the South East being linked to air pollution.
Respiratory, cardiovascular, and a range of other related illnesses with proven linkages to pollutants, cost the NHS services approximately £20bn per year.
However, London is not the only area which has been exceeding pollution levels, with the European Commission outlining sixteen regions within the UK that are repeatedly breaching quotas. Areas such as Glasgow, Teesside, Leeds and Birmingham are amongst those listed.
Somewhat shockingly, legal action regarding nitrous dioxide has been taken against 12 EU member states including France, Germany, Spain and Italy, and it has been revealed that air quality standards are being breached in 23 out of 28 member states, in more than 130 cities across the European continent.
It is estimated that poor air quality leads to around 400,000 lives being ended prematurely throughout Europe each year.
In order to combat these levels the EU Commission has called for moves towards electric cars, increased vehicle tax to discourage use of diesel vehicles, and the eventual phasing out of diesel engines by 2025.
The UK government claims it has taken measures towards this, with proposals being made in October of last year outlining clean air zones for Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020.
These implementations would promote the use of electric cars, possibly privileging electric vehicles through being given priority at traffic lights and given preferential access to parking spaces.
The government has committed more than £2 billion since 2011 to promote greener transport schemes according to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
However, Green MEP Molly Scott Cato has highlighted that Prime Minister May has failed to include environmental protection in her Brexit white paper’s twelve points, therefore indicating that “the environment is not at the top of her list”, and that “Brexit is partly being driven by a desire to reduce environmental standards”.
Bearder has voiced concerns that there may be some resistance by the government to implement effective change in light of Brexit, and to claim that the UK is no longer bound by EU courts.
However, she states that what remains is that through a duty of care the government is urged to take some measures to prevent people from “dying daily”. “We still need clean air”, Bearder points out.
Seb Dance, the Labour party’s environmental lead and Member of the European Parliament, also expressed concern regarding future prospects of the UK’s pollution levels upon exiting the European Union, stating that “thousands of lives are lost each year”.
Deputy Director of the European Environment Bureau Pieter de Pous has criticised Theresa May and the UK’s “shameful lack of ambition when it comes to environmental protection”, and has revealed that “UK access to the single market must come with strict conditions… to ensure that it complies with existing and future EU environmental law”.