After years of Government inaction on the environment and of facing an increasing climate emergency, the eyes of the nation—not only young people, but especially young people—are on this debate and on us today, asking: is this going to go far enough, is this going to go fast enough, and is this what Brexit was really all about? I do not think the Bill does any of those things, and I will outline a few of the areas I think my constituents in Putney are very concerned about, but which are also of real impact for people not only across the country but the world.
The first area is air pollution. New figures from Public Health England have revealed that the risk of dying from long-term exposure to London’s toxic air has risen for the third year running. King’s College research shows that, by the age of 10, children in London have a missing lung capacity the size of an egg for each lung. That will not grow back: it is permanent damage. It especially affects the poorer people of London, who often live on the most affected roads.
Putney High Street in my constituency is one of the most polluted streets in London, and I think we would find that many more were polluted if there were more air monitors. Green buses have made a huge difference to Putney High Street and to reducing air pollution, thanks to support from the Mayor of London and the Assembly, but more must be done. I am delighted that the Mayor is committed to meeting World Health Organisation targets for London by 2030.
There are many ways in which this Bill fails to be ambitious enough on air pollution. It should include a legally binding commitment to meet World Health Organisation guideline levels for fine particulate matter pollution by 2030 at the very latest. Why have the Government chosen not to commit to WHO recommended guidelines in this Bill? They should strengthen the Office for Environmental Protection, making it independent and robust, and granting it the ability to levy fines and to make binding recommendations. It needs to have teeth, otherwise it will not be the effective body we need it to be, and we will not go far enough fast enough.
The Bill should include more of a modal shift towards cycling and walking, which is absolutely essential to cleaning up our air.
The second area is Heathrow airport. Tomorrow the Court of Appeal is due to rule on a legal challenge to plans to build a third runway at Heathrow airport. The expansion of Heathrow is fundamentally at odds with the aims of this Bill. The two are completely incompatible, and expansion cannot go ahead. An expanded Heathrow will increase the UK’s carbon emissions by between 8 megatonnes and 9 megatonnes of CO2 per year, with much of it being dumped on green spaces such as Putney Heath in my constituency. It will dwarf a huge number of other carbon reduction areas that we might consider and that might be introduced by councils across this country.
Heathrow expansion will worsen air pollution levels in Putney. The Government have accepted that it would have a “significant negative” effect on air quality, and they have provided no evidence to show how Heathrow can both expand and comply with legal limits at the same time. It will also result in jobs being drawn away from other regions by 2031. According to analysis by the New Economics Foundation of the Department for Transport’s own data, jobs would be drawn away from regions—for example, 2,360 jobs would be drawn away from Bristol, 1,600 from Solihull, and 1,300 from Manchester. This is not just a London issue and problem. Heathrow expansion will result in an additional 260,000 flights per year, which is not compatible with the climate crisis we face. I therefore implore the Minister to intervene and reverse the Government’s decision to allow the expansion to proceed, and to use the Bill to legislate against all airport expansions that cannot clearly demonstrate that environmental targets will be met.
My third point is that the Bill must strengthen, rather than dilute, the European Union environmental framework that it replaces. The EU possesses one of the most comprehensive and effective environmental legal frame- works in existence. Currently, 80% of our environmental laws come from the European Union, and those laws have brought many benefits, such as a 94% drop in sulphur dioxide emissions by 2011. We were losing 15% of our protected sites a year, but thanks to EU regulation that is now down to 1%. More than 90% of UK beaches are now considered clean enough to bathe off. My constituents in Putney are concerned that the Bill will water down the protections that the EU has given us, and I have been inundated with emails about that. The Bill must include a straightforward and substantive commitment to the non-regression of environmental law.
My fourth point is that the Bill does not go far enough to protect our oceans. Right now, 93% of fish populations are overfished, and only 1% are properly protected. Next month is a huge opportunity to take action at the Global Ocean Treaty negotiations, and I implore a senior Minister to attend those negotiations and set ambitious targets—I would like to know whether that is being planned.
Communities in Putney experience some of the most acute environmental problems facing the UK. They suffer from some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country, and they will be some of the biggest losers following an expanded Heathrow. They cannot afford to have environmental standards go any lower. For that reason, I believe that the Bill fails them, and I implore the Secretary of State to do better. This long-awaited Bill is just not good enough—it is not good enough to say that it is okay. It will not tackle the climate emergency. It must include targets and more resourcing for local councils, and it must go further and faster on air pollution and carbon reduction. Only then will it be worthy of the label “world leading” on environmental action.