Cleaner air for Scotland: the road to a healthier future

A strategy setting out the Scottish Government's proposals for delivering further improvements to air quality.

1. Introduction

What is CAFS?

1.1 Cleaner Air for Scotland – The Road to a Healthier Future ( CAFS) is a national cross-government strategy that sets out how the Scottish Government and its partner organisations propose to reduce air pollution further to protect human health and fulfil Scotland’s legal responsibilities as soon as possible. A series of actions across a range of policy areas are outlined, and there are a number of important new initiatives:

  • a National Modelling Framework;
  • a National Low Emission Framework:
  • adoption of World Health Organization guideline values for particulate matter in Scottish legislation; and
  • proposals for a national air quality awareness campaign.

What is air pollution?

1.2 Air quality can be defined as ‘a measurement of the pollutants in the air’ [1] whilst air pollution is the ‘contamination of air by harmful gases and particulates, mainly oxides of carbon, sulphur, nitrogen and particulate matter’ [1] . Today, we do not usually see factory chimneys, houses or vehicles belching out black smoke. This is because of the increasingly strict legislative controls of industrial and domestic emissions, along with higher engine emissions standards for road vehicles.

1.3 Air pollutants may now be largely invisible, but the gases and particulates can be harmful to human health and the natural environment. We are not yet fully compliant with EU and Scottish legal requirements for air quality, as summarised in the Legislation and Policy [2] and Standards [3] sections of the Air Quality in Scotland website. As a result, the Local Air Quality Management ( LAQM) regime has designated over 30 Air Quality Management Areas [4] in Scotland.

1.4 Reasons for non-compliance with legal objectives include:

  • an increase in the diesel fleet over the last decade;
  • an increase in the total number of vehicles since 2004 [5] ;
  • a disparity between laboratory and real-world emissions from vehicle engines;
  • topography and spatial planning of urban areas creating street canyons, which can trap air pollution close to ground level;
  • limited integration of air quality with other policies related to climate change and planning; and
  • transboundary emission sources.

1.5 Air pollution disproportionately affects the most vulnerable members of society, including the very young, the elderly, people with existing medical conditions and those living in deprived urban areas. Thus, the key aims of reducing air pollution are to protect human health and eliminate health inequalities, in addition to improving the quality of places and habitats in the wider environment.

1.6 In the UK, the health impacts of poor air quality have been estimated to cost around £15 billion per year [6] . In the UK, the total economic costs of air pollution may be as high as £54 billion a year [7] . In Scotland in 2010 fine particulate matter was associated with around 2,000 premature deaths and a total of around 22,500 life years lost across the population [8] .

1.7 CAFS will address the major air pollutants that affect human health (and take account of greenhouse gases such as CO 2), but there will be a focus on two pollutants: nitrogen dioxide ( NO 2) and particulate matter ( PM 10 and PM 2.5).

Multiple benefits of cleaner air

1.8 Cleaner air provides multiple benefits, but the responsibility for delivering cleaner air rests with many groups, including the general public, national and local government and businesses. Actions that can be undertaken by individuals and society to achieve cleaner air – and tangible personal benefits – are summarised in Figures 2a and 2b [9] . There are also opportunities to generate efficiencies and cost savings by linking air quality to related policy interventions, notably climate change adaption and mitigation plus noise. Efficiency gains of €2.5 billion could be achieved in the EU [10] through such an approach.

Air quality and Scottish Government policy

1.9 Scotland’s Economic Strategy [11] states that sustainable economic growth is the key to unlocking Scotland’s potential. The Scottish Government’s commitment to sustainable development is reflected in its Purpose [12] , which is to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish. This will be achieved by:

  • creating a supportive business environment;
  • achieving a low carbon economy;
  • tackling health and wellbeing and social problems;
  • maintaining a high-quality environment; and
  • passing on a sustainable legacy for future generations.

1.10 Achieving cleaner air in Scotland will deliver positive outcomes across all of these goals.

1.11 Five strategic objectives that underpin this core Purpose – Greener, Healthier, Safer & Stronger, Smarter and Wealthier & Fairer – are in turn linked to 15 National Outcomes (see footnote 12) which set out in more detail the Government’s policy priorities. Again, several of the National Outcomes – notably those focus on environment, sustainable places, environmental impact and healthier lives – relate directly to air quality.

Figure 2a. Multiple benefits of good air quality

Figure 2a. Multiple benefits of good air quality

Figure 2b. Actions by individuals and business

Figure 2b. Actions by individuals and business
Source – Adapted from SEPA Making the case for the environment – air quality 2014 [9]

1.12 Co-benefits from effective co-ordination of climate change and air quality policy have been noted in the ‘Low Carbon Scotland: Meeting Our Emissions Reduction Targets 2013-2027 – The Second Report on Proposals and Policies’ [13] , with further detail provided in paragraph 8.5.

1.13 Action on air quality is also embedded in worldwide environmental policy. Principle 1 of the Rio Declaration (1992) on Environment and Development [14] states that “human beings… are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [15] , endorsed by the Scottish Government in 2015, also make explicit reference to air quality. The Sustainable Cities and Communities goal sets a target to “by 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including paying special attention to air quality”.

1.14 CAFS sets out how the Scottish Government, working together with partner organisations across the public and private sectors, will deliver cleaner air across Scotland, in order to help create and maintain a strong, healthy and fair society that is capable of living within environmental limits.


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