Thursday, 30 March 2017

Racing to stay ahead

Parliament is currently considering the Vehicle Technology and Automotive Bill. Amongst other things, the Bill is about automated and electric vehicles.

This is a welcome opportunity for the UK to stay ahead of the pack in research and innovation that will shape how we travel in the future and create more of the high-skilled jobs that a modern economy needs. But, it needs to be seen in the much wider context of technological and climate change, the global economy and public health concerns.

Meanwhile, today’s news is heavily featuring global environmental pollution, with particular implications for the UK.

World Health Organisation reports confirm that environmental pollution is killing 1.7 million children each year. Environmental risks cause more than 1 in 4 deaths in children aged under 5 years every year. Children are especially vulnerable to pollution due to their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways. The most common causes of infant death globally – diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia – are preventable with safe water and clean cooking fuels.

Asthma prevalence in children is increasing worldwide, with 11-14% of children aged 5 years and older currently reporting asthma symptoms. Every year, more than 570 000 children under 5 years die from respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, linked to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand tobacco smoke.

Air pollution is a big issue for every urban part of the UK, but many villages – especially those with main roads – are not immune, shortening the lives of an estimated 40,000 people a year. In my own constituency, there are significant air pollution problems, especially near the M1, and one school has already had to be moved. That’s why there is such an urgent need to develop and promote less-polluting vehicles and transport systems. 

Three weeks ago, the UK was given a final warning to comply with EU air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) or face a case at the European court of justice. If the UK does not show Brussels how it intends to comply with EU law by April, a court hearing with the power to impose heavy fines could begin later this year

 It’s time for the government to stop ducking and diving and to face up to today’s as well as tomorrow’s challenges.