Air quality and environmental health

Air pollution has significant effects on the environment and human health. Globally, indoor air pollution and outdoor air pollution together cause around 7 million premature deaths per year. Air pollution is a major risk to public health in the UK: around 40,000 premature deaths are attributable to air outdoor pollution annually. Exposure to air pollution has been linked to respiratory and heart diseases, as well as cancer, asthma, obesity and dementia.

The World Health Organisation provides global air quality guidelines that recommend targets for common air pollutants. The UK has various targets for air pollution and reports annually on its progress on meeting air quality targets. Air quality law and policy also interacts with other policy areas, including climate change, environmental permitting and planning.


Law and policy

UK air quality law and policy is found at different levels of government. The UK Government is required to produce a UK Air Quality Strategy. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) coordinates reporting for the UK as a whole. Responsibility for meeting air quality targets - concentration limits for various air pollutants in outdoor air - are devolved. Other legislation deals with emissions of air pollutants.

The National Air Pollution Control Programme (2022) sets out how the UK aims to meet its 2020 and 2030 emissions reduction commitments for five pollutants: nitrogen oxides, ammonia, non-methane volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and sulphur dioxide.

Air quality law and policy across the UK can be found here:

Local authorities across the UK are required to review air quality in their areas and designate 'management areas' where they are needing to improve compliance with air quality targets - this is known as the Local Air Quality Management framework.

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