The UK government is targeting farmers and people with wood burners in its new Clean Air Strategy, which it says will reduce the amount of cancer-causing air pollution by 2030.
But critics have described the plans – which ministers say will make the UK the first major economy to adopt World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines – as “severely lacking in detail”.
Focusing on particulate matter known as PM2.5, a carcinogenic which emanates from open fires and domestic stoves, the strategy set out by environment secretary Michael Gove is vague: it claims PM2.5 exposure will drop to below the WHO standard across “much of the country”, and does not lay out a schedule of work to achieve the “world leading” goal.
The effort will include regulating which stoves are available by 2022 and banning the sale of toxic fuels for domestic stoves, plus potentially phasing out the sale of house coal.
Farmers will be required to adapt their farming techniques, with training and support made available to help them reduce their ammonia emissions.
Farming minister George Eustice said future agriculture policy will involve financial rewards and incentives for farmers reducing their contribution to air pollution. Further details for the strategy have been promised for “early 2019”.
Not only did the UK cut ammonia emissions by just 10% from 1980 to 2016 (compared to a 70% cut in NOx emissions over the same period) but ammonia emissions actually increased by 10% between 2008 and 2016.@Love_plants's blog on the Clean Air Strategy: https://t.co/VtAcD10OG2 https://t.co/3lovKp2UEe
— Green Alliance (@GreenAllianceUK) January 9, 2019
The strategy includes no new action to tackle vehicle pollution and instead repeats the government’s vow to stop petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040.
Jenny Bates, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said: “While the WHO says standards should be reached by 2030, there is no date set in the government’s strategy and the plan is severely lacking in detail on how such a target could be met.
“The biggest problem with our currently illegal NO2 air pollution is road transport – and cars and other vehicles are also a key source of particle pollution, both from exhausts and also brake and tyre wear. If the government is serious about protecting our health, and the health of the planet, it must scrap new road building plans which would add to the problem, and phase out petrol and diesel vehicles faster than planned.”
According to NHS figures, air pollution is to blame for nearly 30 per cent of non-communicable diseases in England.
Ministers have said the strategy will go further than current EU legislation – which the UK has repeatedly failed to comply with– does to cut pollution. No information has been released regarding how ministers will be held to account if environmental rules are flouted once the country is no longer subject to EU law.
— British Lung Foundation (@lunguk) January 14, 2019
A spokesperson 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.
“We’re calling on the government to bring forward its diesel and petrol vehicle phase out date to 2030, bringing us in line with a host of nations such as Ireland, India and Israel. Alongside that we’re calling for the introduction of clean air zones to tackle air pollution across the country.”