A new strategy has been launched today to tackle air pollution — identified as one of the biggest threats to public health in the UK.
Environment secretary Michael Gove announced the Clean Air Strategy which aims to cut the cost of air pollution by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.
The UK will set an ambitious, long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter (PM), which the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified as the most damaging pollutant. To inform development of this new target, the government will publish evidence early this year on what action would be needed to meet WHO guidelines.
This comes on top of a commitment to halve the number of people living in areas breaching WHO guidelines on PM by 2025.
The UK is the first major economy to adopt air quality goals based on WHO recommendations, going beyond EU requirements.
Launching the Clean Air Strategy, environment secretary Michael Gove said: “The evidence is clear. While air quality has improved significantly in recent years, air pollution continues to shorten lives, harm our children and reduce quality of life.
“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.
“While air pollution may conjure images of traffic jams and exhaust fumes, transport is only one part of the story and the new strategy sets out the important role all of us - across all sectors of work and society - can play in reducing emissions and cleaning up our air to protect our health.”
With a commitment to end the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040, the UK is going further than many other European nations in tackling emissions from cars.
The Clean Air Strategy sets out a programme of work across government, industry and society to reduce emissions coming from a wide range of sources. Following a recent increase in popularity, domestic burning on stoves and open fires is now the single biggest source of particulate matter emissions which is why as part of the new strategy will:
- introduce new legislation to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuels
- ensure that only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022
- explore how to 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
Action is also being taken to reduce air pollution from agriculture which is responsible for 88% of ammonia emissions by:
- supporting farmers to invest in infrastructure and equipment to reduce emissions
- introducing regulations to require farmers to use low emission farming techniques
- introducing regulations to minimise pollution from fertiliser use
Commenting, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Air pollution is a health issue: it harms the health of the nation. For each of us, our health is unavoidably shaped by the environment we live in. Environmental factors determine around 30% of our healthy life expectancy. Air pollution poses the single greatest environmental threat to human health.
“Breathing dirty air is associated with a host of health problems, from asthma to cardiovascular disease and lung cancer, and all too often it is the most vulnerable – children, older people and those from poorer backgrounds – who are hit hardest. In short: clean air helps you live longer.
“No-one can tackle air pollution alone, so it is a duty of government to act for us all. We are determined to clean up our environment and are taking the lead with this Clean Air Strategy. We have made strides forward over the past few years and the action we are taking today will save lives and improve the health of the nation – both for those of us here today and for generations to come.”
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, welcomed the new strategy, stating: “Air pollution kills seven million people globally every year, making it one of the largest and most urgent threats to global health of our time. I applaud the United Kingdom’s Clean Air Strategy, which will not only help to protect the health of millions of people, but is also an example for the rest of the world to follow.”
The government will shortly bring forward an Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill which will include primary legislation on air quality, last updated in the historic Clean Air Act of 1993.