William Eichler 14 January 2019

Whitehall launches ‘ambitious’ clean air strategy

The Government’s new clean air strategy aims to cut the costs of air pollution to society by nearly £2bn every year by 2020, although critics warn it lacks detail.

Environment secretary Michael Gove today launched Clean Air Strategy 2019 which he described as an ‘ambitious, long-term target’ to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter (PM).

Air pollution contributes to around 40,000 deaths each year in the UK and costs the economy an estimated £22bn. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified PM as the most damaging pollutant.

The strategy commits the Government to ending the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040. It also places restrictions on domestic burning on stoves and open fires.

New legislation will be introduced to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuels and only the cleanest stoves will be available for sale by 2022, according to the strategy.

The Government will also continue to explore how they can give local authorities powers to increase the rate of upgrades of inefficient and polluting heating appliances.

The agriculture sector, which is responsible for 88% of ammonia emissions, is being encouraged to do more to reduce emissions by investing in new infrastructure and equipment.

The clean air strategy says new regulations will be brought in to incentivise the use of low emission farming techniques and to minimise pollution from fertiliser use.

The Government is also committed to halving the number of people living in areas breaching WHO guidelines on particulate matter by 2025.

The UK is the first major economy to adopt air quality goals based on WHO recommendations, going beyond European Union legal requirements.

‘While air quality has improved significantly in recent years, air pollution continues to shorten lives, harm our children and reduce quality of life,’ said Mr Gove.

‘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.’

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said: ‘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.’

In response to the publication of the government’s Clean Air Strategy, Morten Thaysen, clean air campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: ‘The Government is saying all the right things about the huge cost in human lives, and money, which our appalling air quality imposes, and gives an important signal about tighter long term targets.

‘But there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between this recognition of the urgency of the problem and the extremely relaxed approach to solving it.

‘Even after recognising the seriousness of the air pollution crisis the Government is proposing nothing new to tackle pollution from road transport.

‘A 2040 phase out date for diesel and petrol vehicles is effectively saying that yes, your grandchildren deserve clean air, but your children will just have to go on breathing toxic fumes so as not to disrupt the car industry’s sales forecasts.’

Claire Haigh, chief executive of Greener Journeys, a campaign group dedicated to promoting sustainable transport, described the strategy as a 'missed opportunity' to 'support more efficient and reliable public transport'.

'Congestion is the biggest cause of roadside air pollution, and reducing the number of cars and vans on our roads is the only solution,' she said.

'A fully loaded double decker bus can take 75 cars off the road, and the latest generation of clean buses are cleaner than most modern diesel cars despite having 15 to 20 times the capacity.

'The strategy lays out plans to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040, but immediate action is needed to ensure drivers are persuaded to change their habits now.'

'To begin with, the Government should end the freeze in fuel duty which has led to a 4% increase in traffic since 2011,' Ms. Haigh added.

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