Union calls for a legal responsibility on employers to address a crisis in U.K. air pollution

BWTUC logoThe Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council (BWTUC) is the Southwest London arm of the Trades Union Congress and a founding supporter of the Greener Jobs Alliance. The BWTUC has undertaken a campaign against toxic air, and argues that employers are the root cause of diesel emissions –  from their transport fleets as well as the individual  journeys to and from work made by workers.  As part of its campaign against what it calls the “number one public health issue”, BWTUC will help local unions to carry out monitoring of pollution levels where they work, and is also producing online training modules which will be available at the Greener Jobs Alliance website after a May 27 launch.  Finally, it is advocating for a Clean Air Act, as stated in the  Greener Jobs Alliance Top 10 Election Demands  : #10: “ Introduce a Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution once and for all. Place a clear legal responsibility on employers and businesses to address air quality and develop a network of low emission zones in pollution hot spots.”

The U.K. government has addressed the issue of roadside air pollution in Improving air quality in the UK: tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities: Draft UK Air Quality Plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide  (May 2017).  Unlike the BWTUC, the government clearly sees pollution as an individual, not employer, responsibility.  “The UK Government is clear that any action to improve air quality must not be done at the expense of local businesses and residents. Therefore local authorities must work closely with local people to create an approach which works for them. Everyone has a role to play in helping to address NOx by considering how they can reduce emissions through their day-to-day activities, for example by choosing cleaner vehicles.”  The government does propose incentives for low carbon fuel vehicle fleets, and for clean busses for commuting, but the plan is controversial and inadequate – see “UK’s new air pollution plan dismissed as ‘weak’ and ‘woefully inadequate‘” and  “Air pollution plan: sacrificing the nation’s health to save an election campaign“, both of which appeared in The Guardian on May 5.

double decker busAccording  to a BWTUC press release , the people of Battersea/Wandsworth have a lot at stake: “In 2016 Putney High St had the dubious distinction of being the most polluted road in the whole of Europe.  By law hourly levels of Nitrogen Dioxide must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre more than 18 times in one year. In fact, the hourly limit was exceeded over 1,200 times in 2016. In January 2017 the standard was breached 11 times in one day.” …. “In April, the Wandsworth Guardian quoted a report that showed 29 schools in the borough located in areas exceeding the safe legal limit.”

C40 Summit of Mayors and cities’ climate leadership; Toronto receives its “Environmental Report Card”

The C40 Summit of Mayors held in Mexico City in early December occasioned a number of announcements and publications.  The city of Montreal has joined the growing C40 network, according to the Montreal  press release .  Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City announced that they will ban diesel cars from their centres by 2025, according to The Guardian.  A new report, Deadline 2020: How cities will get the job done   provides an analysis and a roadmap of what the 84 global C40 cities need to do to accomplish the goals of the Paris Agreement. It calls for emission reduction from an annual average of above 5 tCO2e per citizen today to around 2.9 tCO2e per citizen by 2030.  A companion report,  How U.S. Cities Will Get the Job Done highlights the nearly 2,400 individual climate actions taken by the 12 current U.S. members of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group over the past decade.  Michael Bloomberg,  former New York City mayor and President of C40, said, “Mayors don’t look at climate change as an ideological issue. They look at it as an economic and public health issue…. Regardless of the decisions of the incoming administration, U.S. mayors will continue to deliver action and lead the way.”

Toronto’s former mayor David Miller was President of C40 in 2008 – but Toronto’s recent Environmental Progress  Report    from the volunteer  Toronto Environmental Alliance    finds that “While we have seen some progress issues like toxics and waste, City Hall is still far from fulfilling their responsibilities on climate change and transportation.” In reviewing the environment-related decisions made by Toronto City Council since the election in Fall 2014, the report  notes that  the current mayor committed to the Paris Agreement, and the Council has committed  to develop a new long-term climate action plan for May 2017 with  an 80% reduction target by 2050. Neither of these actions have any funds associated with them, and the TEA urges Council to “dramatically ramp up funding”.  Toronto’s climate and energy goals, and its current Action Plan, are available here.