Environmental Standards Scotland air quality investigation - Scottish Government improvement plan

This improvement plan sets out the Scottish Government’s response to the six key recommendations made by Environmental Standards Scotland following its investigation into air quality.


Both concentrations and emissions of the main air pollutants in Scotland have declined significantly over the last three decades. This has been achieved through tighter regulation, improved fuel quality, cleaner vehicles and an increased focus on sustainable transport. Between 2005 and 2020 (the latest year for which figures are available), nitrogen oxide emissions have decreased by 61%, fine particulate matter (PM) by 52% and sulphur dioxide by 92%.

Excluding data from 2020 and 2021 (which are not representative of long term trends due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic), pollution levels across the Scottish monitoring network of c.100 sites continue to decrease year on year. Provisional air quality monitoring data, which at the time of writing were still to be ratified, indicate that for the first time, outside of recent lockdown periods, there are no monitoring sites in Scotland exceeding air quality objectives.

At the same time, hotspots of poorer air quality remain in some of our urban centres, linked closely to transport emissions. In addition, as our knowledge about the effects of air pollution on human health continues to develop, it is becoming increasingly clear that even low pollutant concentrations can impact a wide range of both short and long term health conditions. And as we continue to make progress on transport, other pollution sources, such as domestic fuel combustion and agriculture, will require greater attention.

Taking all of this into account, it is vitally important that we build on successes to date and take continued action to drive down pollution levels still further. The Scottish Government's Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 strategy[1] (CAFS2) sets out the policy framework for air quality in Scotland to 2026 and includes a comprehensive list of actions across a range of policy areas.

The Government welcomes ESS's air quality investigation and improvement report as a positive contribution to this process. We have worked closely and constructively with ESS during the course of this work, and we are committed to delivering on the six key recommendations made in the improvement report. This improvement plan sets out how we intend to do this. The plan is split into two sections, the first section covering the three recommendations relating to local authority roles and responsibilities in relation to air quality, and the second covering the remaining recommendations relating to monitoring. The improvement report requires the first four recommendations to be included in an improvement plan. Under section 30 of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021, an improvement plan must be laid before the Scottish Parliament. ESS has made the remaining two recommendations to the Scottish Government under its power to make recommendations in relation to any matter relevant to its functions, but has not required for these to be included in the improvement plan. However all six recommendations are covered here for completeness and to allow a wider, more strategic approach to be taken in responding to them.


Email: Andrew.Taylor2@gov.scot

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