Government to launch clean air strategy

The Government is to launch a clean air strategy after years of legal battles by campaigners.

The environment secretary Michael Gove will today (14 January) announce it will adopt long-term air quality targets to cut people’s exposure to particulate matter (PM), based on World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

To help develop 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.

According to the Government, the proposals will cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.

The environment secretary will also announce the Government is looking to introduce new laws to ban the sale of polluting fuels, which are used for burning on stoves and open fires.

Mr Gove is also expected to say ministers will also take action 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.

The Government will also introduce new regulations to require farmers to use low-emission farming techniques, as part of the strategy.

‘We must take strong, urgent action,’ said Mr Gove. ‘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.’

Today’s announcement follows a lengthy legal battle by the campaigning group ClientEarth.

In February 2018, the government was defeated for the third-time running in the High Court ClientEarth over its air pollution plans.

In a landmark decision, High Court judges said the government’s failure to require action from 45 local authorities with illegal levels of air pollution in their area was ‘unlawful’.

Responding to today’s announcement, ClientEarth’s head of public affairs, Simon Alcock said: ‘This strategy doesn’t address the huge problem of air pollution from transport that is harming people’s health. It instead claims that it is being dealt with by other plans. What it doesn’t say is that those plans are in total disarray, so once again the government has missed a golden opportunity to clean up illegal levels of air pollution across the country and start protecting people’s health.

‘We welcome the stated ambition to halve the number of people living in areas with pollution above World Health Organisation guideline levels but we now want to see tighter legally binding limits locked into legislation in the Environment Bill. Action to protect people’s health must be a requirement, not a ‘nice to have’.’

The chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, Dr Penny Woods said the new strategy is ‘a step in the right direction’.

‘However, we’re disappointed that it doesn’t include a clear commitment to adopt the WHO limits for particulate matter pollution in the upcoming Environment Bill,’ added Dr Woods.

‘No one should have to breathe toxic air, especially not people with a lung condition or children whose lungs are still growing. Our current legal limits are twice as high as WHO recommendations, and too many people are still exposed to unsafe air pollution levels which puts the lung health of all of us at risk.’

Jamie Hailstone

Jamie Hailstone

journalist

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