Air pollution: another unfolding health crisis
No one could fail to be moved by the big, beautiful smile of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah – whose life was so tragically taken at the age of nine after being exposed to ‘excessive’ levels of pollution in London.
The landmark inquest recorded air pollution as ‘a material contribution’ to her death. The news reverberated around London and highlighted this silent public health crisis.
As both your MP, but also as the mother of two young children, I have a moral and personal duty to act. This is especially true given how close we are to Heathrow airport and with the busy A316, on which several local schools are located, carving through the constituency.
Therefore, I am campaigning for ‘Ella’s Law’ to secure legally binding limits on air pollution in the UK in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance.
Unfortunately, the UK has a poor track record on this subject. The 2017 National Action Plan on air pollution was deemed ‘unlawful’ by the UK High Court as it wasn’t strong enough to enforce change among local authorities. This year, in a case that started before Brexit, the European Court of Justice found the government to have ‘systematically and persistently’ breached air pollution limits. As we are no longer bound by the EU’s air quality rules a Clean Air Act is critically needed.
The government’s solution was the highly acclaimed Environment Bill, first introduced in October 2019. After an understandable delay due to the pandemic, the Bill was inexplicably delayed again to the new parliamentary session that has just started. In the earlier stages of its passage through Parliament, attempts to include new air quality targets that follow WHO guidelines were voted down.
I’m urgently calling for a Clean Air Act, which introduces legal limits in line with WHO guidance, to be enforced by an organisation with the teeth to hold public authorities to account. A new Air Quality Agency must have enough powers and resources to prevent tragedies like the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah.
Hundreds of local residents signed my Air Quality petition so, spurred on by this local support, I led a debate in Parliament on air pollution in London.
During the debate I called for the introduction of ‘Ella’s Law’, an additional £20bn emergency fund for local authorities to tackle the clean-air crisis and the abandonment of plans to expand Heathrow.
I will continue the fight to ensure the air that we and our children breathe is safe.
Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham