SNP Government urged to act after Scotland’s air pollution levels soared in 2021

THE SNP Government has been urged to act after air quality legal limits were breached last year – bouncing back from a historic low in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Analysis from Friends of the Earth Scotland has revealed that Hope Street in Glasgow registered an average reading above the legal limit for diesel pollution in 2021 while a string of streets across Scotland recorded soaring pollution levels – despite Covid restrictions including working form home guidance continuing and the nation being in lockdown conditions for the first few months of the year.

Environmental Campaigners have pointed to a “lack of political action” and called for SNP ministers to begin “taking control of our public transport” in order to reduce levels of toxic pollution, responsible for thousands of deaths a year.

The analysis examined two toxic pollutants which are primarily produced by transport.

Legal air quality standards came into force in 2010, yet have been broken every single year since except 2020.

READ MORE: Air pollution spike warning if Scots not encouraged to get back on trains and buses

Glasgow’s Hope Street once again breached legal air quality limits for nitrogen dioxide, while other streets such as Salamander Street in the Leith area of Edinburgh and Atholl Street in Perth showed increases in particulate pollution.

Measures such as Spaces for People – brought in during lockdown to ease social distancing and create temporary cycle lanes and pedestrian spaces – have been ripped out by councils including in Edinburgh.

Air pollution kills 2,500 people in Scotland each year and puts the population at risk of serious health conditions including asthma, heart attacks, and strokes.

After Hope Street which had an annual mean micrograms per cubic metre of 45 for nitrogen dioxide against the European Ambient Au Quality Directive limit of 40, Lochee Road in Dundee recorded 32, West Bridge Street in Falkirk and Atholl Street in Perth registered 31, Seagate in Dundee and Queensferry Road in Edinburgh both registered 30.

READ MORE: Edinburgh City Council to scale back low emission zone plans

For fine particles (PM10), against a Scottish annual statutory standard of 18 micrograms per cubic metre, Salamander Street in Leith registered 15 and Atholl Street recorded 14.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s transport campaigner, Gavin Thomson, said: “Scotland once again has illegal air quality in 2021, which is shocking but not surprising given the lack of political action on the issue. 2020 was an outlier for obvious reasons and we witnessed unprecedented changes to all areas of public life. But for traffic emissions, it was back to business as usual in 2021.

“From the evidence we have, virtually every street in Scotland experienced higher levels of pollution in 2021 than the previous year.

“Air pollution from transport is responsible for thousands of premature deaths in Scotland every year, and causes serious heart and lung issues. The growing evidence base showing the links between air pollution and vulnerability to Covid-19 is only the latest reason why we have to act to protect public health.”

He added: “The low emission zones being introduced will not restrict private cars until summer 2024. Meanwhile, with pollution spiking in Perth, we should be asking why only four cities in Scotland are introducing LEZs.

“The temporary improvements in air quality in 2020 arrived at an enormous cost to our communities and societies. There was no intention or concerted political action to reduce emissions, which is why the falls were not maintained when restriction eased.

READ MORE: SNP Government to investigate pricing people out of car use to cut carbon emissions

“We need a just transition for transport, including taking control of our public transport to run comprehensive services that serve passengers not profit, and more options for safe walking and cycling, to improve the air we breathe permanently.”

The Scottish Government has faced criticism for failing to hit its annual greenhouse gas reduction targets for the last three years but has pledged to cut car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030.

Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport, Liam Kerr, said: “Rising air pollution rates follow a wider trend of the SNP failing to meet their climate change targets.

“The Scottish Government have set themselves the goal of reducing car usage, but with little improvement to rural bus routes, and service cuts and fare increases on our railways, they are not doing enough to entice people onto public transport.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Improving air quality and in turn the health of our people and planet is an urgent priority for this government and we’re taking action across the board to deliver this.

“Last year, we published our updated air quality strategy, setting out how Scotland can achieve the best air quality in Europe. To make that happen, we’ve committed to reducing motor vehicle kilometres by 20% by 2030. We’re providing free bus travel for under 22s, over £500 million for bus priority infrastructure and investing at least £320 million in active travel by 2024-25.

“In addition, Scotland’s low emission zones will provide real benefits for thousands of people in Scotland’s cities – they will reduce harmful emissions significantly and help to deliver air quality objectives. That’s an important step forward for the wellbeing of our communities and environment.”

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