Climate Change and Air Quality Strategy

Last updated: 30 September 2021

6. Air Quality

Air quality is assessed against levels of specific air pollutants that affect human and environmental health. While some of them do have a global warming potential (GWP) the focus is on how they negatively impact living organisms’ physiology and the built environment. Some air pollutants are acidic (for example oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide) or are powerful oxidizing agents (for example tropospheric ozone) and will corrode the lining of the lungs, other living tissue, and inorganic material. Others can get through the respiratory system and affect the normal function of organs (for example PM2.5), or are carcinogenic (for example PAHs, benzene, 1,3 butadiene).

The health impacts of poor air quality have been widely reported in recent years. People are not affected equally - those with weaker or developing respiratory and circulatory systems are typically worst-affected, and higher-deprivation areas in urban centres are often located close to key sources of air pollution.

National air quality objectives, standards and targets have been set for the following air pollutants:

  • Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
  • Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
  • Tropospheric Ozone (O3)
  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Benzene
  • 1,3 butadiene (C4H6)
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)
  • Lead

The UK has also made commitments to reduce emissions of PM2.5, NOx, SO2, Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and Ammonia (NH3) by 2030. GOV.UK has more information on these emissions reductions targets and more information on air pollutants can be found on the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory website.

Many of the major sources of air pollutants that affect air quality are also the major sources of GHGs, and by reducing levels of airborne pollutants that damage plants we help maximise the opportunity for them to sequester carbon. The intrinsic links between climate change and air quality are such that it makes sense to tackle them together.

91.2% of respondents to the engagement survey reported that they were concerned about air quality and 69% stated that they are more concerned about it than they were 2 years ago. The level of people very concerned about air quality (57%) is slightly lower than those very concerned about climate change (79%) and this could be because climate change is more prominent in the media and better understood.

Buckinghamshire Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs)

There are 9 AQMAs in Buckinghamshire that have been declared due to exceedances of the annual mean national air quality objective for NO2:

  • Chiltern – Berkhampstead Road and Broad Street in Chesham AQMA (declared 03/11/2007)
  • Aylesbury – Tring Road (declared 04/07/2005); Friarage Road (declared 01/07/2008); and, Stoke Road (declared 01/07/2008) AQMAs
  • South Buckinghamshire – M4, M25, M40 and adjacent land (declared 01/10/2004); and Iver Parish Boundary (declared 01/08/2018) AQMAs
  • Wycombe – M40 and adjacent land (declared 01/08/2001); High Wycombe (declared 22/12/2017); and Marlow (declared 22/12/2017) AQMAs

The main source of NO2 is road transport. Air Quality Action Plans developed to address the sources and impacts of NO2 in these AQMAs can be found on our website. Concern about air quality was highest from engagement survey respondents located in densely populated areas (including Aylesbury and High Wycombe) where AQMAs exist. A map of all AQMAs in the UK can be found on the DEFRA website.

Regulated Facilities

Currently Buckinghamshire Council has 153 regulated facilities registered with the authority and the Environment Agency has 23 regulated facilities registered with them under the EPR 2016. These include, amongst others, landfill sites, energy from waste site, petrol stations, dry cleaners, foundries and concrete crushers. There are public registers of all regulated facilities in Buckinghamshire on the Environment Agency website.