Should the right to clean air be law?

Gavel and Law Book

Here at EMSOL, we of course believe that everyone should be able to breathe clean air. But this article, discussing whether or not this should be enshrined in law, caused a bit of debate. With the Clean Air Bill making its way through Parliament, perhaps it is something that everyone with an interest in improving air quality should be thinking about.

We have made no secret of the fact that we think that there are other ways of improving air quality in our cities. Local authorities working in partnership with start-up companies and fleet operators has the potential for great things. The law is a very useful stick, that occasionally needs to be used where minimum standards are not met. But this does not mean it is a good tool of first resort.

In one of our previous posts, we set out what we think our best approach should be to establishing an effective local authority strategy. Legislation is an excellent support to such strategy making by establishing a minimum standard (of delivery or of outcome) that all parties need to achieve. And as importantly, it sends a message that government has the ability and inclination to take action should the standards not be met.

One matter that we have all been able to agree on is that it is desirable for any such legislation not to set the means by which the goal of the legislation should be achieved, but the outcomes intended. The current legislation simply states that local authorities should establish and deliver Air Quality Action Plans in areas where air pollution levels exceed legal limits. Judging by the outcomes so far, and court cases lost, this is clearly not sufficient.

Importantly, this outcome needs to be definable, measurable. Having a right to clean air is well-intentioned, but in order for the law to have teeth it needs an outcome more defined than that. And more ambitious than that of current legislation.

We think that very few people can argue against cleaner air, and legislation plays a role. It just needs to be thought through carefully. If we are going to have legislation, lets make it good legislation.