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Government launches plan to tackle air pollution

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has launched an ambitious new strategy to clean up our air and save lives, taking aim at emission sources including wood burning stoves.

Air pollution is one of the biggest threats to public health in the UK – behind only cancer, obesity and heart disease – and the measures set out in the Clean Air Strategy will cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7bn every year by 2020, rising to £5.3bn 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 is expected to 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 far 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.

“With a commitment to end the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040, the UK is going further than almost every other European nation in tackling emissions from cars – but air pollution does not just come from transport. 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 we 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; 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.”

The government also plans to take action to reduce air pollution from agriculture – which is responsible for 88 per cent of ammonia emissions – by supporting farmers to invest in new infrastructure and introducing new regulations.

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 UK’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 UK 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.

14 January 2019

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