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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 6°C
deep breath

The UK is getting slammed for its air quality levels - so how does Ireland fare?

The UK’s poor air quality ratings are thought to cause more than 40,000 premature deaths a year.

shutterstock_600216023 Alena Ozerova via Shutterstock Alena Ozerova via Shutterstock

A UN REPORT published this week sharply criticised the UK for failing to tackle the “plague” of air pollution in its major cities.

“Air pollution continues to plague the United Kingdom,” read the report by United Nations expert Baskut Tuncak, to be presented at the rights council in Geneva.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has been particularly vocal on the issue of air pollution, suggesting alternative transport options and announcing air quality audits to help identify where pollution needs to be reduced.

So if that’s the verdict given to our neighbours across the sea – how does Ireland’s air pollution levels fare?

Nitty gritty

Overall, Ireland scores quite well on air quality.

The Air Quality Index for Health map below shows that Ireland scores very well – the green colours indicate high quality air levels (or air levels that do little to no damage to the public’s health).

Ireland Air Pollution Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency

This is largely as a result of our lack of large cities, non-dusty weather and access to predominantly clean air masses from the south west.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Pat Kenny says that although Ireland has passed EU air quality targets, it hasn’t met WHO, EEA or the Protection of Human Health levels of what’s deemed safe.

The latest EPA air quality report said:

When we compare our air quality levels to those recommended by the World Health Organisation, the situation is a bit more complex. We face challenges in reducing our levels of particulate matter and ozone to below those recommended by the WHO Air Quality Guidelines.

“Those have tighter tests than the EU limits and values,” Kenny tells ”Every successful reduction [in pollution] has consequential health benefits.”

The report goes on to say that although the EU has overseen very successful air quality solutions, “air pollution science is also improving and our understanding of the impact of poor air quality on health is growing and new challenges are facing Europe over the coming decades”.

Particulate matter in Ireland, or PM10, PM2.5, is predominantly sourced from solid fuel burning and it is in this area “where much of the reductions can be made”.

Harmful pollutants EU / EPA EU / EPA / EPA

In their National Ambient Air Quality Strategy, the EPA will be recommending that the number of local councils that offer up-to-date information on their air quality levels be doubled, and that an air quality forecasting tool be introduced.

“If you have a respiratory problem, and you want to go out to the shops, if you look at the weather tomorrow and see that the forecast for air quality is bad, you might reschedule your trip until the following day if it’s better.”

While ‘ambient air quality’ and emissions are measured separately by the EPA, there are links between the two.

Kenny and other environmentalists are concerned that as the economic recovery continues, the emissions arising from cars will increase and have a knock-on effect on human health.

UK’s post-Brexit obligation

And if Ireland doesn’t meet its air pollutant obligations, it need only look to Britain to see what kind of punishment we could face.

Air pollution Dominic Lipinski via PA Images London Mayor Sadiq Khan announces 50 air quality audits at a school located next to a busy road. Dominic Lipinski via PA Images

More than 40,000 premature deaths a year are linked to air pollution, noted the report which argued that through inaction the government has “violated its obligations” to protect children.

The British government has faced a series of legal challenges over its proposals, with a 2015 air pollution plan struck down by the courts for being inadequate.

New proposals, including a scrappage scheme targeting diesel cars, were unveiled in May after the High Court ruled against the government’s intention to delay.

But the UN report said the latest plan “does not convey the necessary urgency” and urged the government to implement a “robust clean air plan without delay”.

Wading into the subject of Brexit talks, the UN report advised the British government to continue to abide by evolving EU standards despite its exit from the bloc.

- With reporting from AFP.

Read: Ireland fares poorly on alcohol use, child sex abuse and suicide rate

Read: By 2018, transport fleets like Bus Éireann will have green energy buses

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