Air Pollution Information System (APIS) provides a searchable database and information on pollutants and their impacts on habitats and species. The legislation page aims to provide a general reference for the underpinning agreements that led to UK domestic legislation to address air pollution effects on ecosystems. Legislation about air pollution and human health is not covered. It may be necessary to visit other UK country websites for the latest legislation.
Much of UK air pollution work is driven by legislation designed to protect ecosystems or to underpin UK implementation of the 1979 Convention for Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) established within the framework of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). There are also UK country regulations that aim specifically to control emission sources or to protect and enhance biodiversity. These are supported by country strategies to provide supplemental advice, action and indicators for reducing air pollution and protecting ecosystems.
The following sections provide more detail on CLRTAP and where to find UK country-specific legislation. All UK legislation can be found on http://www.legislation.gov.uk/.
CLRTAP was the first international legally binding instrument to deal with problems of air pollution on a broad regional basis. Besides laying down the general principles of international cooperation for air pollution abatement, the Convention sets up an institutional framework bringing together research and policy. CLRTAP entered into force in 1983. It has been extended by eight specific protocols. Including the 1999 Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone (Gothenburg Protocol).
CLRTAP aims to explicitly link air pollution sources, changes in air quality and effects on ecosystems. This is achieved by securing commitments to reducing national pollutant emissions, sector specific emissions, monitoring and research to ensure there are tools to estimate the risk to ecosystems. These tools include critical loads and levels developed through the UNECE Working Group on Effects International Coordination Programme on Modelling and Mapping. As part of this, APIS provides the UK resource for protected sites to assess risk from air pollution and ensure the UK can protect and enhance its ecosystems.
The Gothenburg Protocol considers the linked impacts of NOx (nitrogen oxides), NH3 (ammonia), SO2 (sulphur dioxide), particulate matter and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in relation to the issues of acidification, eutrophication and photochemical oxidants. These linkages are shown in the figure below taken from Grennfelt et al. (1994).
The Gothenburg protocol is a natural continuation of the earlier protocols under the Convention. As a modern, "second-generation" protocol, it takes full account of the interdependence of various environmental problems and the related pollutants.
As part of the Gothenburg Protocol emission ceilings were negotiated on the basis of scientific assessments of pollution effects and abatement options. These ceilings represent reductions in a nation’s total emissions when compared to 2005 levels. Parties whose emissions have a more severe environmental or health impact and whose emissions are relatively cheap to reduce had to make the biggest cuts. In the UK this is transposed through the National Emissions Ceilings Regulations.
The Protocol also sets tight limit values for specific emission sources (e.g. combustion plant, electricity production, dry cleaning, cars and lorries) and requires best available techniques to be used to keep emissions down. Additionally, VOC emissions from such products as paints or aerosols will also have to be cut. Specific measures are required to control ammonia emissions from agriculture, anaerobic digestion and other sources.
Guidance documents adopted together with the Protocol provide a wide range of abatement techniques and economic instruments for the reduction of emissions in the relevant sectors, including transport and agriculture. Alongside this guidance are provision to permit specific activities to ensure reductions are made. In each UK country there may be specific regulations for controlling emissions, remediating or compensating for damage to ecosystems and for assessing the risk to ecosystems. Some legislation is set at UK level. Examples include:
- The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 (UK level)
- Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012
- The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
- The Environmental Impact Assessment (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019
Often UK ecosystem legislation does not always explicitly refer to air pollution. Protections for ecosystems from air pollution effects are typically inferred through recognition that increases in nutrients or pH changes can affect functioning of the ecosystems. This often results in assessment of the risk to natural ecosystem function or damage from air pollution and requirements to prevent or mitigate this risk.
There are several pieces of legislation that transpose the Habitats Directive (European Union Council Directive 92/43/EEC) into UK law:
- the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended) in England and Wales (including the adjacent territorial sea) and to a limited extent in Scotland (reserved matters) and Northern Ireland (excepted matters),
- the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended) in Scotland,
- the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended) in Northern Ireland
Country Nature Conservation Body information and guidance on this legislation, air quality and ecosystem effects can be found at:
- Northern Ireland – Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
- Scotland – Nature Scot Website
- Wales – Natural Resources Wales Evidence and Data
- England – Natural England Access to Evidence Website
- Defra UK-Air
Pages explaining air quality effects on human health and related legislation can also be found on the country specific government, local council and planning authority websites. Some helpful pages are:
- Northern Ireland Air Quality Monitoring and Policy pages
- Scotland Air Quality pages
- Wales Air Quality pages
- England Air Quality pages