Air quality describes the amount of pollutants (as concentration) in the air, which may be hazardous to people and/or the ecosystem.
Poor air quality has been identified as the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, and the UK government is committed to improving air quality by reducing the emissions of five most damaging air pollutants:
- particulate matter (PM)
- nitrogen oxide (NOx)
- ammonia (NH3)
- sulphur dioxide (SO2)
- non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs).
Of these pollutants, particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are both major components of urban air pollution and currently there is no clear evidence of a safe level of exposure. As such PM and NO2 are identified as key air pollutants.
National Air Quality Objectives
The Environment Act 1995 requires the Government to produce a national air quality strategy with air quality standards, objectives and measures for improving ambient air quality.
Defra has the ultimate responsibility for meeting air quality limit values In England. Defra has issued National Air Quality Objectives with limit and target values for the protection of human health, vegetation and ecosystem.
Across the UK air quality has improved significantly in recent decades. We have seen 72% reduction of NOx emissions, 97% reduction of SO2 emissions, and 66% reduction of NMVOCs since 1970. See the Government’s Clean Air Strategy 2019 for the latest national plans for dealing with air pollution.
In addition to existing air quality objectives and targets, two long-term PM2.5 targets have been set under the Environment Act 2021:
- Annual Mean Concentration Target: a maximum concentration of 10µg/m3 to be met across England by 2040
- Population Exposure Reduction Target: a 35% reduction in population exposure by 2040 Local authorities have statutory duties to review and assess local air quality. Based on monitoring data, Surrey Heath currently meets all statutory air quality objectives.
Air quality and climate change
It has been acknowledged that Greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour, can interfere with earth’s climate system and cause climate change. Climate change and the GHGs are addressed under the Government’s Climate Change and Net-Zero Strategy and supporting targets and plans.
SHBC declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 and has since developed Climate Emergency Motions and a Climate Change Action Plan to achieve carbon neutral across our own estate and operations by 2030. Please see our Climate Change page for further detail.