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Climate crisis: Barry Gardiner MP says children in Brent may 'never have breathed in clean air' since they were born

PUBLISHED: 15:23 19 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:58 19 October 2019

Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North. Picture: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North. Picture: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

©Louise Haywood-Schiefer/lhschiefer.com/2017

Brent North's MP pledges to hold the government's "feet to the fire" over climate change issues as he says the borough's air quality is "toxic".

The North Circular is one of the borough's most polluted roads. Barry Gardiner MP said children under 10 in Brent may never have breathed clean air in their lives. Picture: Michael Stephens/PA ArchiveThe North Circular is one of the borough's most polluted roads. Barry Gardiner MP said children under 10 in Brent may never have breathed clean air in their lives. Picture: Michael Stephens/PA Archive

Barry Gardiner MP is shadow minister for international climate change and leads the Labour frontbench on global climate issues as well as being the international trade chief.

In an interview with this paper he said children born in his constituency in 2010 "may never have breathed clean air in their life".

Air pollution in London is responsible for roughly 9,500 premature deaths a year, according to a study by researchers at King's College London.

"Brent's air quality is toxic, often far exceeding legal limits of NOx and particulate matter pollution, most of which is due to road traffic," Mr Gardiner said.

"Tackling the air quality crisis is an uphill battle, against a government that has chosen to endanger the health of every single resident of Brent with their refusal to take immediate, evidence-based action to reduce toxic air pollution in this country.

"The UK was legally obliged to meet limits on toxic air pollution in 2010, but got an extension to 2015 which they still did not meet.

"That means a child born in Brent in 2010 may never have breathed clean air in their life."

He said the government has "sat on its hands" for nine years "despite continual breaches of nitrogen dioxide across the country".

"Their headline policy - ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 - misses the point entirely," he said.

"Schoolchildren in Brent breathing polluted air their entire life don't need action in 21 years' time - they need it now. We urgently need a new law to set out the framework for controlling air pollution that is fit for the 21st century, informed by the latest science to make sure air quality standards guarantee the highest level of public health.

"And above all, we need to enshrine the right to breathe clean air in law so that we can tackle air pollution in the strongest possible way."

He echoed other senior Labour figures, saying the climate crisis was "entirely an issue of social justice" - that the existing inequality in society would mean those worst off now would also be worst affected by extreme weather and higher bills.

"According to the Met Office, climate change will mean that the UK will experience more and more extreme weather events by the 2070s," he said, "including four heatwaves a year and almost twice the amount of current flash flooding.

"Extreme weather events will harm the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society the most - those who are least able to afford protection from flooding, or the oldest in our society who are most likely to suffer the worst during a heatwave."

He said the greatest obstacles for people living a more sustainable lifestyle was cost. His party would help motorists buy an electric vehicle, and he touted interest free loans and a new a scrappage scheme to replace petrol and diesel cars over 10 years old.

"Twenty years ago the Labour government made the push for diesel vehicles," he lamented. "We thought we were doing the right thing by shifting vehicles away from petrol cars, which emit more CO2.

"What we didn't realise was that diesel vehicles were worse for air quality - made all the worse by car manufacturers that fiddled the test results to make them look less polluting than they actually were. Today, we need to accelerate the shift away from cars driven by fossil fuels to electric vehicles. This is essential to cut transport carbon emissions."

As well as a Labour pledge to invest £3.6billion into building electric vehicle charging networks, he said Labour would "create a car club owned by the community, in every community, putting 30,000 electric cars onto the UK's streets in every neighbourhood" to improve access to electric cars.

"Eating less meat or cycling to work will also bring huge rewards for your own health," he added.

Next year the UK is set to host the UN Climate Change Summit, known as "COP26". "This will be a crucial meeting where the world's leaders must come together and announce new plans that will get us closer to avoiding catastrophic climate breakdown," he said,

"As part of my role I'm holding this government's feet to the fire to make sure that they are doing what's needed to make these negotiations a success."

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