New laws banning the sale of polluting fuels and use of open fires with farmers being subject to air quality regulations for the first time are part of an ambitious bid launched by the government to tackle air pollution and save lives.
Environment secretary Michael Gove has revealed the plans which set out long-term targets to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter (PM), which the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified as the most damaging pollutant.
According to the government, the Clean Air Strategy promises to set a "bold new goal" in reducing particulates across much of the country by 2030, while cutting the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.
Action to cut air pollution from agriculture is also a key area for the strategy which is responsible for 88% of ammonia emissions. Ministers have pledged to support farmers by investing in infrastructure and equipment.
In September 2018 the government launched a new £3 million programme through the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership to fund a team of specialists who work with farmers and landowners in priority areas to provide training events, tailored advice, individual farm visits and support with grant applications.
Commenting on the launch, environment secretary Michael Gove said work was needed across various sectors to ensure emissions were reduced and not just a focus on traffic pollution which is sometimes the case.
“While air quality has improved significantly in recent years, air pollution continues to shorten lives, harm our children and reduce quality of life,” he added. “We must take strong, urgent action. Our ambitious strategy includes new targets, new powers for local government and confirms that our forthcoming Environment Bill will include new primary legislation on air quality.”
A recent increase domestic burning on stoves and open fires means these sources are now the single biggest source of particulate matter emissions. As a result of this, the new strategy will:
- Introduce new legislation to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuel
- Ensure that only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022
- Continue to explore how we can give local authorities powers to increase the rate of upgrades of inefficient and polluting heating appliances
- Bring existing smoke control legislation up to date, and make it easier to enforce
In November 2017, the scope of the challenge facing the country was identified by a World Health Organisation (WHO) report which found that millions of people in the UK are inhaling air considered to be too dangerous to breathe.
Out of the 51 UK cities and towns listed in an air quality database, 44 failed the WHO's test for fine sooty particles smaller than 2.5 microns, which are linked to heart disease and premature death.
Responding to the report, the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) has welcomed the breadth of the strategy but has warned that many areas lack detail and the body wants to work with minsters to develop the detail rapidly.
EIC executive director Matthew Farrow said: “Whatever course Brexit takes in the next few years, thousands of people will still be dying from air pollution. It is welcome to see the government recognising that we must do better and starting to set targets to cut particulate levels to WHO limits, something EIC has been arguing for since 2015. It is crucial that the Environment Bill sets legally-binding targets to bring pollution down to safe levels and that the proposed Office of Environmental Protection has the powers to hold future governments to account on this agenda. It’s worth noting that the ambition the government is indicating, if followed through into hard policy, can help make the UK a leading centre of air pollution control technology, with huge export potential in a post-Brexit economy.”
Government’s latest efforts to tackle air pollution comes on the back of fighting legal battle enforced by the environmental climate group ClientEarth. In February 2018, the government was defeated for the third-time running in the High Court over its air pollution plans.