International, European and national standards for air quality
The UK is compliant with its 2010 national emission ceilings for air pollutants. We report national emission totals each year for the main pollutants to the European Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution has agreed a number of protocols including the Gothenburg Protocol (amended in May 2012).
The UNECE Gothenburg Protocol now sets national emission reduction targets, including for fine particulate matter, to be achieved by 2020.
The EU ambient air quality directives set limits and targets for concentrations of various pollutants in outdoor air for the protection of health and ecosystems. It includes controls over fine particulate matter.
The UK meets European air quality standards for nearly all pollutants. The main challenge is in meeting nitrogen dioxide limits alongside roads in cities and towns. We report on compliance each year, as we do for emissions.
The EC is reviewing air quality policy. The review will be finished in autumn 2013.
The EU Directives include:
the EU National Emissions Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC), which sets limits on total annual emissions of important air pollutants for all member states to help reduce ‘transboundary air pollution’ (pollution that is generated in one country but has an effect in others)
National legislation and standards on air quality
Air quality is a devolved matter, though the UK government leads on international and European legislation. Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responsible for their own air quality policy and legislation.
Part IV of The Environment Act 1995 sets provisions for protecting air quality in the UK and for local air quality management.
The Air Quality (Standards) Regulations 2010 transpose into English law the requirements of Directives 2008/50/EC and 2004/107/EC on ambient air quality. Equivalent regulations have been made by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000 set national objectives for local authorities in England.
The National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2002 transpose into UK legislation the requirements of the National Emission Ceilings Directive (2001/81/EC).
The Environment Agency regulates the release of pollutants into the atmosphere from large and complex industrial processes. They also regulate emissions from some large-scale food processing factories and pig and poultry rearing activities.
The Environment Agency works with local authorities, the Highways Agency and others to manage the government’s Air Quality Strategy in England and Wales. The strategy sets air pollution standards to protect people’s health and the environment.