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WHO clean air levels should be legally binding, say activists
Traditional sources of fuel, such as turf or wood, may have significant health consequences, says CLM

05 May 2022 / environment Print

WHO clean air levels should be legally binding – activists

A call for a National Clean Air Strategy that protects citizens’ right to breathe clean air has been issued by Community Law & Mediation’s Centre for Environmental Justice.

The body has been joined in the call by Age Action, Community Work Ireland, the Disability Federation of Ireland, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, the Independent Living Movement Ireland, Not Here Not Anywhere, and the Think Tank for Action on Social Change.

The National Clean Air Strategy Consultation sought views on the matter while marginalised communities are disproportionately impacted by air pollution because of where they live, and the level and quality of healthcare to which they have access, the campaigners say.

Respiratory problems

Disabled people, the elderly, those with respiratory conditions, and children are also particularly susceptible to the impacts of air pollution. 

The groups are calling for the right to breathe clean air to be the central guiding principle for a redrafted strategy, and for the adoption of World Health Organisation (WHO) 2021 guidelines as legally binding targets by the end of 2022.

A National Clean Air Strategy that works to deliver clean air, address energy poverty, and meet Ireland’s climate goals would address, also, the rights of vulnerable and marginalised communities, the campaigners say.

Many households in – or at risk of – energy poverty may rely on traditional sources of fuel, such as turf or wood, to heat their homes, without being aware of the significant health consequences of doing so, and without readily available alternatives, said CLM chief executive Rose Wall.

Energy poverty

She added: “A new energy poverty strategy is essential to ensuring that measures taken to address air quality do not exacerbate energy poverty.

“Between December 2020 and December 2021, the cost of electricity rose by 22.4% and gas by 27.7%. Energy costs are now 34% higher than December 2016. Up to 28% of households may be in fuel poverty, and electricity bills are predicted to rise 50% in 2022. Urgent action is needed to protect communities.”

She cautioned that much stronger governance and access-to-justice provisions would be needed if the strategy were to be successfully implemented.

A clear monitoring framework is necessary in order for the strategy to work, and for effective monitoring and accountability, she added.

The strategy must ensure that citizens and communities have access to legal remedies when Ireland’s obligations in relation to air quality are not being fulfilled, Wall said.

The full list of recommendations are:

  • Right to Breathe Clean Air,
  • ‘Clean’ air rather than ‘cleaner’ air as stated aim,
  • A whole-of-Government approach, with strategy placed on a statutory footing to ensure enhanced policy coherence,
  • Path to adopting WHO Air Quality Standards by end-2022,
  • Improved specificity on priority areas and overall objectives,
  • Monitoring and accountability with mechanisms that are measurable, actionable, and time-bound, with a view to ensuring policy coherence and protecting citizens’ rights under the Aarhus Convention,
  • Address inequality – measures to engage impacted communities on air quality issues in accordance with their participatory rights under the Aarhus Convention,
  • New energy poverty strategy, with data collection on energy poverty,
  • Dissemination of data – public bodies and local authorities to engage in greater public dissemination of real-time localised air-quality issues, and
  • Adopt a new Clean Air Act replacing the Air Pollution Act 1987, and providing greater powers to local authorities.
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