Air Quality Targets in the Environment Bill

The Environment Bill establishes a legally binding duty on government to bring forward at least two new air quality targets in secondary legislation by 31 October 2022. This duty sits within the environmental targets framework outlined in the Environment Bill (Part 1).

Targets will be developed following an evidence-driven process and the Secretary of State will be required to seek independent expert advice before setting targets in secondary legislation.

The ‘Environment Bill – environmental targets’ policy paper published in August 2020 outlined 4 steps to systematically develop targets:

  • Step 1: Setting the scope of the targets
  • Step 2: Developing fully evidenced targets
  • Step 3: Public consultation on target proposals
  • Step 4: Drafting target legislation

Further information on these stages can be found in the policy paper linked above.

Target objectives under consideration for air quality include:

  • Reducing the annual mean level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air (as required by Clause 2 of the Environment Bill)
  • Reducing population exposure to PM2.5

This page features publications relevant to the development of air quality targets to meet the requirements in the Environment Bill, and links to additional information.

July 2021: AQ Target Development Expert Advice

In July 2021, advice received by Defra from independent expert groups AQEG (Air Quality Expert Group) and COMEAP (Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants) to inform the development of air quality targets was published. This advice, and a summary paper, can be accessed using the links below.

Air Quality Expert Group

Initial Engagement on Air Quality Target Setting

Early in the target development process Defra asked AQEG for their initial views on a number of technical aspects relating to the proposed targets, and how they wished to be engaged in the target setting process. Following an online meeting with Defra, AQEG provided a summary note providing some preliminary advice.

Please note that this advice was provided at an early stage of the development process and some points may have been superseded or greater detail/qualification added at a later date. This initial advice helped to inform Defra’s early decision-making on areas such as metrics, measuring progress and modelling.

Call for Evidence – Future PM2.5 concentrations in England

On 19 November 2020 AQEG launched a call for evidence on the modelling of future PM2.5 concentrations in order to inform their advice to Defra. This call sought evidence from the results of modelling as to the future concentration and composition in England, the main drivers of future changes, key modelling uncertainties and information relating to on how population exposure might change.

From the responses received AQEG invited some respondents to present to them at an online workshop. AQEG produced a summary of what was learned from the call for evidence and made a number of recommendations to Defra. This information is informing the modelling approach being taken and provides context to the work, for example highlighting the technical complexities and uncertainties involved in air quality modelling.

Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants

The papers referenced below can be accessed via the COMEAP publications webpage.

Advice on health evidence relevant to setting PM2.5 targets

COMEAP were asked to provide advice addressing questions regarding the health evidence relevant to consideration of the development of targets for PM2.5. The questions had been prioritised in discussions between Defra, COMEAP Secretariat, COMEAP and QUARK (COMEAP’s quantification sub-group) Chairs following a workshop in July 2020. A COMEAP meeting was held in November 2020 to discuss the questions and an advice note was developed in the months following this. This note provides advice and recommendations based on the latest health evidence to inform our target setting.

Initial Engagement on Air Quality Target Setting

Early in the target development process Defra held a workshop with COMEAP to provide the committee with information on the target setting process and to obtain initial views on Defra’s proposed work programme, what aspects of the work programme the committee could provide advice on, and how they wished to be engaged in the target setting process. Following an online meeting with Defra, COMEAP provided a summary note providing some preliminary advice. Please note that this advice was provided at an early stage of the development process and some points may have been superseded or greater detail/discussion included in the more recent advice note.