Emilia Hanna: Why I quit Nicola Sturgeon’s air pollution expert group

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Apathy over air pollution led Emilia Hanna to quit a Scottish Government pollution group.

Air pollution has been in the news a lot in the past few years, but our air quality is still not improving quickly enough. And this means that children in many urban areas in Scotland are still growing up breathing in air that is so toxic it is illegal. 
Their health, and therefore their prospects, are being threatened. This is despite a legal obligation to have secured compliance with air quality limits eight years ago.

Air pollution from exhaust fumes and other sources can lead to an early grave

Air pollution from exhaust fumes and other sources can lead to an early grave

The Scottish Government and local councils have committed to tackling pollution by introducing Low Emission Zones (LEZs) in Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. Glasgow is the leader of the pack with its LEZ promised to be in place by the end of this year. Sounds good.

But the Glasgow plans are frustratingly weak and will barely do anything to reduce pollution in the first year at all.

There will be no signage in place, no enforcement infrastructure, and the LEZ may require as little as five to ten per cent of buses to be improved, with the dirtiest cars, vans, lorries and taxis still allowed to pollute the city centre for at least three more years.

READ MORE: Polluted streets still ‘poisoning lungs’ in Scotland

This is a bare minimum ‘No Ambition Zone’ which will fail to deliver the Scottish Government’s manifesto commitment of having Scotland’s first LEZ in place by 2018. The glacial pace of change condemns Glasgow’s children to continue to breathe polluted air for many more years to come.

Untilrecently, Professor James Curran MBE and I represented Scottish Environment Link on the Scottish Government’s Cleaner Air for Scotland Governance Group. From that vantage point we became disappointed that logistical issues – like how to fit new exhausts onto buses and which bit of law could be used to invoke an LEZ for cars – became barriers which stalled progress.

The stakes are too high for unnecessary delay; stalled progress on air quality means more early deaths and ill-health. We tried to constructively engage in overcoming these barriers but were met with resistance and apathy, which ultimately led to our resignation.

READ MORE: Fears raised that Scotland’s first low-emission zone will have little impact

Of course, there are going to be logistical issues involved in bringing in an LEZ. But the Government’s groups should be optimistically overcoming these hurdles to deliver the people of Scotland the cleanest air possible.

Take the buses. The bus sector has said that cleaning up their fleets would be too costly, too time consuming, and that the sector and bus passengers will suffer. Yet the Scottish Government has set aside enough money to cover 100 per cent the costs of retrofitting more than 440 buses’ exhausts.

The Governance Group must now work to ensure that the money can be accessed, that an Exhaust Retrofit Centre is established in Glasgow to do the job (which would also create new local jobs).

Hundreds of buses are being retrofitted in London right now, and one bus can be fitted with a brand new, low-emission exhaust at low cost in less than a day, making buses a true part of the solution to air pollution.

Low Emission Zones present an opportunity. A chance to redesign our urban transport in a way which is good enough for our environment and for our children.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to having LEZs is exciting. Stakeholders must work together to grasp the chance to make them a roaring success for clean air with both hands.

Emilia Hanna is an air pollution campaign at Friends of the Earth Scotland