THE BLOG

Government Ministers Must Take Responsibility for Smog in the UK

03/04/2014 10:27 BST | Updated 02/06/2014 10:59 BST

Extremely high levels of air pollution have swamped the country this week, including my constituency in the South East region.

Just weeks after the UK received a written warning from the European Union over its high levels of air pollution, we're now seeing the real threat air pollution poses to us: people with asthma and those with heart or lung problems are particularly at risk, and are being encouraged to stay inside.

We know that this current smog is partly because of Saharan dust, but it's also because of the high levels of air pollution that afflict the UK all year round. The Government may not be able to click its fingers and vanish away the dust, but it most certainly can act to tackle long-standing air pollution.

We know that road traffic is the biggest cause of air pollution, and therefore that we have the ability to do something about it. Yet, during my term in the European Parliament, I've found that calling on the Government for action on air pollution has been like hitting my head against a brick wall.

For example, London has, on several occasions, experienced the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide (N02) in Europe, which is known to cause respiratory problems. And yet we've seen far too little action to tackle the problem, or to reduce road traffic.

Under EU law, governments are required to control air pollution levels. Our Government has so far failed to meet the EU's targets which protect the British public from high levels of N02. The EU also allows governments to extend the deadline by which it can reduce its air pollution levels, but the Government hasn't even bothered to apply for the extension.

A good example of our Government's lax attitude to a life-threatening problem is Boris's recent response to Paris's action on air pollution. When the city's levels of air pollutions exceeded safe levels in mid-March, Parisian authorities forced cars off the road, and offered free public transport, in order to bring pollution levels down. Boris's office dismissed such measures, saying they weren't necessary in London, despite the fact that London continues to face dangerous air pollution levels.

Given that twenty nine thousand people die every year from this invisible killer, that it can cause permanent lung damage in children, and that it causes respiratory conditions in many more, the lack of action by our Government is utterly inexcusable.

We're seeing a pattern of inaction, where extreme events such as the flooding earlier this year and the dust today, draw attention yet again to an ill-prepared government, who are clearly devoid of concern about the citizens they represent.

It's atrocious that on an issue that threatens the lives of the British public, our Government has so little to offer us in order to protect us. Even after the Saharan dust has shifted, people in my constituency will continue to suffer as air pollution remains high.

To tackle this enormous public threat, government has serious choices to make. The public must be informed about the longstanding threat posed by air pollution, low emissions zones must be introduced, and public transport must be cleaner and more affordable.