Today marks one year since the release of the Welsh Government’s ‘Clean Air Plan’.

It represented a huge step forward in our fight to clean up our air and create a cleaner, greener, and healthier Wales. The Clean Air Bill that was promised had developed meaningful cross-party support in the Senedd and real change felt possible.

However, the Clean Air Bill was conspicuous in its absence from the recent legislative programme. This came as a disappointment to me and to many across Wales.

Healthy Air Cymru, an alliance of health, environmental and sustainable transport organisations, had previously called for the introduction of this legislation within the first 100 days of the next Senedd term.

That deadline is now just over a week away. So, while the legislation is now inevitably pushed back, the urgency of the situation has not lessened.  

Poor air quality has been linked to the development of several conditions, with growing evidence highlighting the high levels of air pollution impacting every level of society by increasing the chances of lung cancer, childhood asthma, miscarriage, premature birth/low birth weight, heart disease, dementia, mental health, obesity, and many other conditions.

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Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to public health, second only to smoking. At a cost of £1bn per year to our NHS, air pollution is draining our resources, straining our health system, and cutting short almost 2,000 lives a year in Wales.

Air pollution is also bad for our planet - causing climate-changing emissions and impacting nature, as demonstrated by the rise in flooding across Wales.

The Welsh Government themselves have acknowledge this threat. The creation of the Climate Change Ministry, coupled with the First Minister’s promise to put the environment at the heart of everything his government does, is to be strongly welcomed.

The Welsh Government have begun to act on the environment, with the announcement of £75m of investment in active travel as well as the introduction of 20mph as the standard speed limit in residential areas.

This will help reduce air pollution and encourage healthier and more active lifestyles, making it safer for people to walk and cycle. These are important steps, but they are not the drastic action we require.

Recently in the Senedd, deputy minister for climate change Lee Waters MS, stated that “legislation by necessity will take a number of years to get through”.

To that I say we don’t have a number of years to tackle this crisis. A fact that the deputy minister acknowledged himself in his very next sentence.

It’s vital that clean air and lung health remain a top priority in this Senedd term. It is fantastic that politicians of all sides are working together on this. They must continue to do so, to further the growing cross-party consensus and deliver real change. Wales cannot wait any longer for a Clean Air Act. Lives quite literally depend on it.

*Joseph Carter is chair of Healthy Air Cymru and head of Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Wales.

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