Air Quality

– in the Scottish Parliament on 4th October 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government when it expects to meet air quality limit values, in light of the recent report from Environmental Standards Scotland. (S6T-00897)

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

Current data indicate that European Union limit and target values have been achieved across Scotland for all air quality pollutants, with the exception of six locations for nitrogen dioxide—three in North Lanarkshire, two in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh. The most recent assessment projections estimate that all those locations, bar one in North Lanarkshire, will be compliant during 2022 and that the remaining North Lanarkshire location will follow suit in 2023.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

The report highlighted that monitoring guidance might not provide a comprehensive picture of air quality in our cities, especially around areas with vulnerable people, such as schools and hospitals. Does the minister agree that we should install air quality monitors at every Scottish school?

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

Before moving on to the specifics of my answer, I note that I very much welcome

Environmental Standards Scotland’s report. Indeed, I welcome the fact that we were able, with a great deal of work, including by my predecessor, Roseanna Cunningham, and Scottish Government officials, to ensure that

Environmental Standards Scotland was set up and that there was no governance gap as a result of EU exit.

I am statutorily obliged to respond to the report within six months, which I will do. I will not pre-empt the response today, including on Maurice Golden’s specific point, although it is a good one. I will bring the response back to the Parliament, but I make it clear that I absolutely welcome the recommendations and am committed to working with ESS to progress them.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

The report concludes that current a ttempts to improve air quality are not enough, that the system contains significant weaknesses and that areas of non-compliance are likely to remain. I understand from the minister’s answer that the Government will make a formal response to the report, but will she at least give us an assurance that those failures will be recognised, so that progress can be made?

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

Our ambition is for Scotland to have the best air quality in Europe. We are working very hard with Scottish Government officials and our stakeholders across civic society to drive forward progress, but we are always alive to improvements that need to be made, including those that have been highlighted by Environmental Standards Scotland.

It is important to note that, over recent decades, there has been a significant reduction in pollution because of improved fuel quality, cleaner vehicles and an increased focus on sustainable transport. Between 2005 and 2019, which is the year for which we have the most recent statistics, nitrogen oxide emissions decreased by 53 per cent, fine particulate matter by 30 per cent and sulphur dioxide by 85 per cent. However, we are not complacent, and we will continue to work through the cleaner air for Scotland 2 strategy and on the recommendations of ESS in continuing to improve that.

Photo of Natalie Don Natalie Don Scottish National Party

Will the minister give an indication of how the level of air quality in Scotland compares with that in the rest of the United Kingdom and with those in other parts of Europe? How will the Scottish Government deliver on its commitment to further improve air quality in Scotland?

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

Compared with the rest of the UK—and, indeed with other parts of Europe—Scotland enjoys a very high level of air quality. Targets are being met across most of Scotland, and levels of the main air pollutants, including those that I mentioned in my previous answer, have declined significantly in the past three decades.

The introduction of low-emission zones in our four largest cities as of May this year is a key initiative in further improving urban air quality, and we have committed to investing at least £320 million, or 10 per cent of the total active travel budget, in air quality improvement by 2024-25. That figure is almost triple what it is today.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

Although electric vehicles contribute to air pollution by producing brake and tyre dust, which means that we need fewer cars and not only cleaner ones, EVs do not emit nitrogen dioxide and so are part of the solution in improving air quality.

The Climate Change Committee estimates that we will need at least 30,000 public EV charging points in Scotland by 2030, but the Government’s target is for just over 4,000 in the next few years. Given that only 395 public charging points were installed last year, when does the minister think that Scotland will reach the figure of 30,000 public EV charging points, which are desperately needed?

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

I should allow my colleague the Minister for Transport to respond directly to questions about transport and about charging infrastructure as it relates to that.

Having said that, part of the cleaner air for Scotland 2 strategy is about recognising that air quality is a multifaceted issue that requires work to be done across Government. I am therefore working closely with the transport minister, as well as with planning and health colleagues. I will come back to the member with an estimate of when the roll-out of EV infrastructure will be where he thinks that it ought to be.

I draw members’ attention to two key provisions for the link between transport and air quality. We have made commitments to reducing the number of car kilometres driven by 20 per cent by 2030 and to phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicles by the same date. Both actions will have significant impacts on air quality in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Lung conditions are the third leading cause of death in the UK, with more than 2,500 premature deaths per year in Scotland being attributed to air pollution. In that context, what action is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that local authorities are required to deliver robust and up-to-date air quality action plans with specified target dates?

Photo of Màiri McAllan Màiri McAllan Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government and I are in no doubt that air pollution and physical health are closely connected, with the very young, older adults and those who have underlying health conditions being most impacted. However, the relationship is complex. It is widely accepted that pollution has a negative impact on health, but we also know that the types of illnesses that air pollution exacerbates are also impacted by other factors, such as smoking.

On the member’s direct point, as part of our cleaner air for Scotland strategy, we have committed to developing a more systematic approach to action plan production and implementation. That includes having standardised formats and methodologies for agreeing and setting the defined timescales for completing individual measures, for revoking air quality management areas and for reporting progress. We will also commission a review of air quality data collection and reporting in Scotland to identify any notable gaps in data provision, which will make recommendations on how to fill those. That is all part of our cleaner air for Scotland 2 strategy, which we are currently progressing.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes topical questions.