A clean air strategy from the Scottish Government is a “huge missed opportunity” and more should be done to tackle vehicle pollution, according to health and environmental charities.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham published the Cleaner Air for Scotland plan in October, with the Government seeking feedback on the “essential” measures to improve air quality.
But a coalition of charities has now condemned the strategy, arguing that it contains “very few measures to reduce pollution from vehicles”.
The Scottish Government proposals include potential controls on the supply of wet wood and house coal, a “voluntary code of good practice” for reducing emissions in the agriculture sector and a “new approach to public engagement and behaviour change in relation to air quality”.
Launching the consultation, Ms Cunningham said: “The proposals set out in this strategy are essential if we are to ensure Scotland has the best air quality in Europe.”
She added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that it is more important than ever that we design a better future and a more sustainable, green economy which will better support our communities’ health and environment as we head for net-zero by 2045.”
But with the consultation due to end next week, the charities including Friends of the Earth Scotland, the British Lung Foundation and British Heart Foundation have called for more to be done to restrict emissions and pollution.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s air pollution campaigner Gavin Thomson said: “The Scottish Government needs to listen to the many voices calling for genuine action that will cut air pollution.
“To achieve clean air across Scotland, we need to see firm proposals, rather than just warm words.
“As it stands, this strategy is a huge missed opportunity.
“For example, an independent review recommended doubling the budget for walking and cycling; but instead the plan published by the Government announces active travel spending will remain the same for five years – a real terms cut, year-on-year.
“Transport is Scotland’s most polluting sector in terms of climate emissions.
“By committing to the action that will allow more people to safely walk, cycle and use public transport we can cut emissions and deliver benefits for public health and connectivity.”
Joseph Carter, head of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation Scotland said: “It is unacceptable that Scotland’s air quality continues to breach legal limits.
“It’s clear that high pollution levels have detrimental outcomes for people with lung conditions, as 90% of people we support struggle to breathe during these episodes.
“As it stands, the plan does not go far enough to reduce the serious damage caused by poor air quality.
“The Scottish Government must make it a priority to build a more robust Clean Air Plan that protects our nation’s lung health.”
British Heart Foundation Scotland’s policy and public affairs manager David McColgan argued that the Government’s priority should be to reduce traffic in the most polluted areas.
“This will have a beneficial impact on heart and circulatory diseases in Scotland, ultimately saving lives and reducing pressure on the NHS,” he said.
“The Cleaner Air for Scotland plan offers an opportunity to do this and we would urge the Scottish Government to take bold steps and to go further in tackling traffic and other harmful sources of pollution.”
Scottish Labour’s environment spokeswoman Claudia Beamish added: “The Scottish Government must listen to the calls from charities and action groups who have raised real concerns about the limited nature of the proposed measures set out in the Cleaner Air for Scotland plan.
“Air quality in Scotland has been breaching legal limits since 2010. This is why Scottish Labour demanded the strengthening of the independence of the new watchdog Environmental Standards Scotland in the Continuity Act.
“Poor air quality has a detrimental effect on people’s health, and with the pandemic affecting lung and breathing disorders especially, the SNP Government should be using the consultation as an opportunity to find new solutions to fight emissions and help manage health conditions – not use it as an excuse to avoid further action.”
“The Cleaner Air for Scotland plan is an opportunity to take a step towards a healthier environment. We need a commitment from ministers to take bold action, reduce traffic in heavily polluted areas and boost funding for alternative, clean transport such as walking and cycling.
“If these vital contributions from the public and charities are ignored then the consultation is nothing more than an empty gesture.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We absolutely recognise the importance of clean air – and the serious damage poor air quality can cause. That’s why we are taking bold action across the board to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants.
“Since our original Cleaner Air For Scotland strategy was published five years ago, we have introduced the most ambitious climate change legislation in the world, published our Environment Strategy, updated our National Transport Strategy with an emphasis on greener travel and have begun the introduction of Low Emission Zones in Scotland.
“Our recent Programme For Government committed over £500 million for large-scale active travel infrastructure projects and, as part of our Climate Change Plan update we have committed to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars and vans and reduce car kilometres by 20% by 2030.”