Meeting the UK’s Climate Change Act commitments could cut nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution by 50-60%, leading to improved public health and longer life expectancy.
That is according to a first-of-its-kind study by researchers at King’s College London, who set out to investigate the potential health benefits of delivering government policy.
The Climate Change Act requires the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% on 1990 levels by 2050.
It was found that delivering this target could cut NO2 concentrations in London by more than 50%, with significant particulate matter reductions also expected across the country.
“Our research demonstrates that climate change mitigation policies have the potential to make dramatic improvements in public health through their parallel improvements in air quality,” study lead author, professor Martin Williams, said.
“It is imperative that climate change and air pollution policies are considered together to fully realise the health benefits of both.”
There are approximately 29,000 premature deaths in the UK associated with exposure to small particulate air pollution, which is caused by a wide range of sources, including road transport.
This issue is particularly prevalent in the capital, with a report released last year revealing that nearly 95% of Londoners live in areas exceeding World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for toxic air particles by 50% or more.
The latest research shows that meeting the Climate Change Act commitments would also be beneficial for cities outside London, with Cardiff and Newcastle potentially experiencing 42% reductions in small particulate air pollution.
Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester could benefit from a 57% reduction in NO2 levels, with young people and children having most to gain from improved air quality.
BMA Board of Science chair, professor Dame Parveen Kumar, said: “This is a national health emergency in the UK, with lethal levels of air pollution in our cities breaching both WHO and EU regulations.
“We have the means to address the air pollution crisis – the Climate Change Act is an example of how the UK’s leadership in acting on climate change can also improve health, reducing the burden on our health services.”