Clean air campaign aims for Queen's Speech endorsement

A campaign pushing for a human right to clean air, which was launched in the wake of the death of a London girl from asthma, is urging the government to use the Queen's Speech as an opportunity to make drastic changes to levels of air pollution.

Ella Kissi-Debrah died in 2013 from asthma believed to be linked to air pollution from the South Circular Road
Ella Kissi-Debrah died in 2013 from asthma believed to be linked to air pollution from the South Circular Road

Comms agency Higginson Strategy is working with Clean Air in London, the Green Party’s Baroness Jenny Jones and Labour Co-operative MP Geraint Davies to drive change.

In the latest stage of the campaign, the agency has assembled leading health authorities, scientists, NGOs and senior politicians to sign an open letter calling on the government to adopt a new Clean Air Bill that would enshrine in law the human right to breathe clean air.

The campaign follows the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013. The girl suffered a fatal asthma attack, believed to be linked to illegal levels of air pollution near to her South London home, close to the busy South Circular Road.

In May, the High Court granted a new inquest into the schoolgirl’s death. If air pollution were found to be the cause, that would put pressure on the government to act on the problem.

Kissi-Debrah’s family believe the government’s repeated failure to reduce air pollution breached her right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

John Higginson, co-founder of Higginson Strategy, said: "Britain has the opportunity to be a world leader on clean air.

"We deeply believe clean air should not be a luxury enjoyed only by those that can afford it. We hope the government seizes the opportunity."

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that asthma death rates in England and Wales are worsening, with 20 chidren under 14 dying of asthma in 2018, up from 17 in 2017.

Overall asthma death rates rose from 1,320 to 1,422 in the same period.

Several bills on the subject of air pollution are currently making their way through Parliament, including the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill introduced in the House of Lords, that establish a right to breathe clean air and require the Secretary of State to achieve and maintain clean air in England and Wales.

Other bills on clean air that have received a first reading in the House of Commons cover air-quality targets, vehicle emissions testing and vehicle idling, and even tree-planting.

Announcing the Clean Air Bill as a government priority in the Queen’s Speech next month would become a "milestone moment" for campaigners and victims, said Higginson.

"[It will] ensure that the fight against air pollution takes a prominent position on the political agenda and moves a step closer to empowering people to hold public bodies to account if their human right to breathe clean and safe air is threatened," he added.

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