Keynote speaker, Baroness Jenny Jones: How Ella’s Law would create the right to breathe clean air
Baroness Jones expressed her delighted at being asked to give the keynote speech, and shared that she has been working in clean air policy for twenty-three years. Over this time, both the evidence of the impacts of poor air quality and public awareness of the issue has grown and grown. Baroness Jones thanked Rosamund Adoo-Kissi Debrah CBE for her tireless work driving forward the policy agenda on clean air, following the tragic death of her daughter Ella, after whom the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill is named.
Baroness Jones explained that the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill (‘the Bill’) also known as Ella’s Law would create a human right to breathe clean air, and force government to take meaningful action to achieve ambitious air quality targets, for both indoor and outdoor environments. The Bill is tough but fair, has been developed support and contributions from a wealth of experts, including Rosamund and Sir Stephen Holgate. It presents not only air quality limits and a duty for government, but also establishes a system of accountability and funding obligations, so that relevant authorities, including local authorities, would be properly equipped to carry out their roles in effectively improving air quality. Baroness Jones notes that the Bill had faced very little opposition during its passage through the Lords, which could be because it is very difficult to make the case for dirty air. However, the Bill is now in the Commons, and due to parliamentary process, it is towards the end of a long list of Private Members Bills. This makes it even more important for MPs to know that clean air matters to their constituents, as the Bill may be brought forward if the government feels enough pressure. Baroness Jones thanked Simon Birkett of Clean Air London for his support in promoting the Bill, and WHO air quality standards. She encouraged all attendees to write to their MPs and ask them to stand up for Clean Air by signing Early Day Motion (EDM) 679.
The Bill would update legislation in four major ways:
- It applies to indoor environments in terms of schools, places of work, transport, and public buildings, and demonstrates the need for action on IAQ, for which there are currently no set standards.
- The Bill links the issue of human health and the climate crisis by taking a joined-up approach to zero emissions.
- The Bill would address the gap left in the Environment Bill 2021 by implementing legally binding obligations to achieve WHO air quality standards.
- In terms of local authorities, the Bill would bring powers, duties, and introduce a funding obligation on central government to ensure that local authorities are properly resourced to fulfil their new duties. Local authorities will have to think about air quality in every decision and authorisation they make, which will be challenging for some and will require support from government.
Baroness Jones lamented the lack of a coherent government approach to achieving clean air, where different departments seem to be acting in isolation without any joined-up thinking. Baroness Jones noted that local leaders also have a role to play in achieving clean air; and praised some for taking a pro-active approach. Hopefully the ULEZ in London is a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go nationally. Baroness Jones expressed that there are many challenges to improving air quality. For example, electric vehicles are positive; however, the way we produce them involves using resources from across the globe, and the electricity that powers them is still ‘dirty’; as power stations are burning fossil fuels and in some cases wood to produce energy, in addition to nuclear energy which is unsustainable.
Ultimately, society must not look to ‘techno fixes’ but must accept that we must stop using fossil fuels. Baroness Jones notes this is bold but necessary action, and the cost of inaction will be far greater.