A coalition of Welsh charities have criticised the “lack of urgency” behind a Welsh Government plan to implement a new act to improve the quality of air in Wales.
The Welsh Government has today published a White Paper setting out its for a Clean Air (Wales) Bill.
Healthy Air Cymru, an umbrella organisation consisting of Asthma UK & British Lung Foundation, British Heart Foundation, Sustrans Cymru and others, expressed major concerns about the timelines given for its implementation.
Under the current proposals, the Clean Air Act would not be tabled until at least December 2021. This differs from Healthy Air Cymru’s calls, backed by the Welsh Conservatives, Welsh Liberal Democrats, and Plaid Cymru, for a Clean Air Act to be tabled within 100 days after the Senedd election.
It is currently estimated poor air quality contributes to between 1,000 and 1,400 deaths in Wales each year.
Responding to the Welsh Government’s new Clean Air White Paper Joseph Carter, Chair of Healthy Air Cymru and Head of Asthma UK & British Lung Foundation Wales, said:
“This White Paper represents a huge step forward in our fight to create a healthier future for Wales and reflects the growing political consensus we are seeing.
“We’re glad that the paper contains measures to; increase monitoring and assessment of air pollution levels, to tackle vehicle idling, to clamp down on outdoor burning, and more. We also welcome the commitment to reviewing the plan every 5 years.
“However, the current timeframe for enacting this legislation is far too slow. The First Minister promised to introduce a Clean Air Act this year, before this year’s election. Now we find out it could be as late as 2024 before any regulations come into effect.
“We are in the midst of a climate and public health emergency and need action now, not in 3 years’ time. If tackling health inequalities and building a cleaner, greener, and healthier future is truly a Welsh Government priority – then they need to act like it.
“They must adopt a more ambitious timetable. With almost all major parties backing our calls for a Clean Air Act within 100 days of the election, this is simply too important a can to kick down the road.”
A report on the pandemic’s impact on air quality from March – October 2020, which investigates the science of anecdotal claims that lockdown led to cleaner air enjoyed in towns and cities throughout Wales, was also published today. A Consultation on Reducing Emissions from Domestic Burning of Solid Fuels has also been launched.
The report paints a complicated picture: the first two months of lockdown saw significant decreases in some pollutant levels, consistent with reduced traffic. However, other pollutant levels increased.
While fewer cars on the road meant a decrease of 36% and 49% in nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxides concentrations, respectively, at Wales’ roadsides between March and May, a change of weather pattern brought polluting fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from continental Europe.
Continued analysis of the longer-term changes in air pollution due to lockdown measures will continue as data emerges, the Welsh Government said.
In Wales, poor air quality has an especially pronounced impact on the health of the most vulnerable – such as the very young or very old, or people with cardiovascular diseases and respiratory conditions like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
What’s more, air pollution is having a profound negative impact on our natural world, with more nitrogen and pollutants in the atmosphere being a leading factor in the threat of extinction of Wales’ plants and animals.
Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said: “Breathing clean air and having access to a healthy environment is a right, not a privilege. We must take decisive and lasting action now to enable our future generations to lead healthy lives.
“Welsh Government’s number one priority remains keeping our communities safe and supporting families and businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But just like COVID, air pollution disproportionately impacts the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society. We know from the report published today that the situation is not straight forward.
“I welcome views from the public, academics, charities and businesses alike, to help us paint a clear picture of how we will improve our air quality and collaboratively build our path to a greener and healthier Wales.”
Dr Sarah Jones, Consultant in Public Health at Public Health Wales said: “We welcome the publication of the Clean Air White Paper. It makes a strong connection between health and air quality, and recognises that it is often the most disadvantaged communities that live with higher levels of pollution. The White Paper strengthens and supports our work to protect and improve the health of the people of Wales.”
The Welsh Government is also consulting on approaches to reduce emissions from domestic burning of solid fuels, and is proposing similar restrictions to those passed by UK Government for England. The restrictions consider the types of fuel used in the home, and would ban the sale of house coal and restrict the sales of wet wood. These are two of the most polluting forms of solid fuel used in households in Wales.
A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said: “This is not an attempt to ban the use of wood as a fuel, or to ban the use of wood burning stoves. We do, however, aim to inform the public of the hazards posed from fine particulate matter and other air pollution released from burning in any form, and the harm that it does to the health and wellbeing of the people of Wales.”