More action needed on clean air for Scotland

Independent review finds Scotland is performing well in reducing air pollution but “much more is needed”

Thursday 29th August 2019

Scotland should “double down” on tackling air pollution to prevent potentially severe impacts on health, an expert has warned.

An independent review of Scotland’s air quality has found it is performing “generally quite well” in comparison to other countries in the EU and globally.

Professor Campbell Gemmell, who chaired the review, said good progress had been made but “much more is needed”.

He added: “The health impacts of air pollution are potentially severe and we must double down on taking coherent action.

“The report stresses co-ordinated effort across local and Scottish Government to provide leadership and practical support to move us forward to a cleaner, healthier future.”

Many of the most damaging pollutants including fine particulates – which come from vehicle emissions for example – are now mostly below existing health limits, the review found.

However it said areas of concerns remain, in particular excess levels of nitrogen oxides in city centres, which are linked to respiratory problems, and pollutants generated by the agricultural sector “which have not reduced”.

The review said there is some uncertainty about the scale of health effects associated with air pollution in Scotland.

But it noted growing evidence from other countries linking air pollution to conditions including dementia, diabetes and low birth weight for babies.

“Collectively this constitutes good evidence that air pollution, even at the low concentrations found in much of Scotland, is linked to excess ill health that should be preventable by reducing pollution,” it added.

The recommendations include an action plan to improve air quality and research on the long-term effects of air pollution.

A taskforce should also be set up to identify what action can be taken to address indoor air pollution, which can be caused by poor ventilation, heating, cooking, chemicals in cleaning products.

The report said a review of progress should be conducted before the end of 2024/5.

Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the government would consider the recommendations in detail before formally responding.

She said: “With Scotland performing well by global standards, it is clear that our current strategy has had a positive impact by raising the profile of air pollution and helping to facilitate constructive stakeholder engagement.

“So while I welcome this report, I am under no illusions that there is still more to be done as we progress towards our 2020 targets.”