Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill
Almost exactly 70 years after the Great Smog killed some 4,000 people in London (5-9 December 1952), Baroness Jones’ Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill (“CAHR Bill”) topped the ballot of Private Members Bills in the House of Lords.
The CAHR Bill would establish the human right to breathe clean air precisely and explicitly in UK law. It would require the Secretary of State to achieve ‘clean air’ throughout England and Wales within five years of the passing of the Act and maintain it thereafter.
Rosamund Adoo Kissi-Debrah has agreed that it should be called Ella’s Law in memory of her daughter Ella Roberta who was the first person to have ‘air pollution’ on her death certificate. Having topped the ballot, the CAHR Bill could become law in the 2022-2023 session of Parliament and before the 10th anniversary of Ella Roberta’s death on 15 February 2023. It would put ‘clean air’ on par with equalities in decision making.
The CAHR Bill follows a ‘One Air’ approach to ‘clean air’ that encompasses the health and environmental impacts of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. It would set limits and targets for each aspect of ‘One Air’ based on the best international standards and scientific advice such as the World Health Organisation’s new air quality guidelines (September 2021). The Environment Agency and Committee on Climate Change would be required to review the pollutants and limits annually and advise the Secretary of State if they need tightening. The standards may only be tightened. Importantly, the CAHR Bill addresses outdoor air where people spend their time and indoor air in new buildings, public transport underground, where health and safety provisions apply and in buildings regularly accessed by members of the public including children.
The CAHR Bill also requires the Secretary of State to assess air pollution in England and Wales and publish and report detailed information about it, including warnings when needed.
In order to ensure independent scrutiny and continuous improvement, the CAHR Bill establishes a Citizens’ Commission for Clean Air (CCCA) which would review annually the Secretary of State’s compliance with the CAHR Bill during the previous calendar year and advise the Secretary of State if any methods should be improved from the start of the subsequent year (which he must implement). The CCCA must also monitor and enforce the right to clean air.
In order to help national and local authorities and others, the CAHR Bill requires new regulations to: enable the sale and use of appliances generating wholly renewable energy; enable energy efficiency improvements to domestic and non-domestic premises that reduce energy use and emissions of carbon dioxide; and restrict the sale and use of combustion appliances that emit pollutants to the air including wood burning stoves. These regulations should immediately update the Clean Air Act 1993 and Ecodesign Regulations for modern fuels and technologies and real world emissions. The CAHR Bill also lists ‘Clean Air Enactments’.
The CAHR Bill would give duties and matching powers and resources to national and local authorities, including the Mayor of London, to achieve clean air within five years. Where the Secretary of State or others have not achieved clean air by this deadline, or otherwise complied with their duties under the CAHR Bill, the CCCA may issue a notice requiring them to comply with their duty, take specific steps in order to achieve compliance and provide written information of the steps taken, or proposed to be taken, for the purpose of complying with their duty. The CCCA may apply to the Court for an order requiring a person to comply. The CAHR Bill would also allow the CCCA to institute or intervene in legal proceedings if they are relevant to the duty to achieve clean air. It lists fundamental environmental principles that must be followed.
The CAHR Bill is designed to ensure annual review to achieve continuity, tightening, greater understanding and enforcement of limits and targets to achieve and maintain clean air, particularly after five years.
Links and resources
1. House of Lords’ Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill webpage and resources
Second reading (8 July 2022)
Committee Stage (18 November 2022)
Report Stage (28 November 2022)
Third Reading (2 December 2022)
2. Briefing materials
3. Inquest touching on the tragic death of Ella Roberta Adoo Kissi-Debrah
4. Achieving the WHO’s new air quality guidelines
Q30 – Evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on 27 June 2022
5. Achieving the WHO’s new air quality guideline for fine particles (PM2.5)
6. Clean Air in London articles
7. Climate Change Committee
8. United Nations
The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution confirming the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment on 8 October 2021.
The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recognising the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right on 28 July 2022.
Resolution and record
UK representative said on 28 July 2022:
The representative of the United Kingdom expressed his country’s strong commitment to tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation, voicing concern that environmental degradation can have implications for the full enjoyment of human rights, and in some cases, posing risks to life. He called on States to promote their human rights obligations while taking action to stem climate change and biodiversity loss. Recognition of the right in the resolution is without due regard for the usual formulation of international human rights law, and without prejudice to the United Kingdom’s legal position. There is no international consensus on the legal basis for the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and the United Kingdom does not consider it has yet emerged as a customary right. Recognizing rights without due consideration and a common understanding of what those rights comprise creates ambiguity. People cannot know what they can claim from the State, and conversely, the State has no clear understanding of the right it is obliged to afford to the individual.
He said the resolution also fails to acknowledge the role of human rights defenders working on environmental issues or the need for deeper discussion on this right. Noting that General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, recognition of the right in the text does not legally bind States to its terms. It is the United Kingdom’s understanding that the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment derives from existing international economic and social rights law, he said, pointing to operational paragraph 2, which notes that the right is related to other rights and existing international law. As these matters are of deep concern to all, the United Kingdom voted for the resolution.
At Committee Stage on the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill (18 November 2022), Lord Harlech (the government minister) said:
We are concerned that environmental degradation can have implications for full enjoyment of human rights. The UK understands that the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a component of the rights elaborated in Articles 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; namely, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. However, specifically on this resolution, we regard the recognition of the right as political and consider that there is a lack of international consensus on the legal basis for this right. It is important to have due regard to the usual formation of international human rights law. Nevertheless, we supported the General Assembly resolution on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We are committed to environmental action and will continue to champion more ambitious efforts on environmental protection.
World Health Organisation published update air quality guidelines on 21 September 2021
Six Cities Study (9 December 1993)
10. Health – indoor air
Camfil endorses Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill (13 July 2018)
BESA backs campaign for Ella’s Law (11 January 2021)
NEPC report – 13 June 2022
Mould – Awaab Ishak died on 21 December 2020. His mother and father are Aisha Amin and Faisal Abdullah.
Michael Gove backed Awaab’s Law on 24 November 2022
11. Evidence on policies
ULEZ expansion announced on 25 November 2022
European Commission’s proposals for the revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directives (published on 26 October 2022)
GAINS/IIASA modelling e.g. PM2.5 by 2030
EMEP/uEMEP modelling – Status report published 29 September 2022
Defra source apportionment for 2020 e.g. PM2.5 (see pages 84 for emissions and 90 and 91 for concentrations)
12. Strong cross-party support
Media release on 8 July 2022 confirming support from Green Party, Labour and Liberal Democrats
13. Hansard and Twitter threads
8 July 2022 – Second reading
19 May 2022 – First reading