air pollution london

UK government unveils strategy to cut public exposure to air pollution

The UK government has unveiled its “Clean Air Strategy 2019”, a plan designed to cut air pollution in a bid to improve the nation’s health and improve the environment.

Air pollution is currently rated as one of the most serious threats to public health in the UK with only cancer, obesity and heart disease eclipsing it.

The government says its new strategy will cut the costs of air pollution by £1.7bn every year by 2020, rising to £5.3bn every year from 2030.

A long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter will be developed, as well as a commitment to halve the number of people living in areas breaching WHO guidelines on PM by 2025.

“We will progressively cut public exposure to particulate matter pollution as suggested by the WHO,” the report states. “We will set a new, ambitious, long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to PM2.5 and will publish evidence early in 2019 to examine what action would be needed to meet the WHO annual mean guideline limit of 10 µg/m3."

“By implementing the policies in this Strategy, we will reduce PM2.5 concentrations across the UK, so that the number of people living in locations above the WHO guideline level of 10 μg/m3  is reduced by 50 per cent by 2025.”

Other measures to be introduced include a closer relationship with media outlets to improve public access to the air quality forecast. The government has also said it will monitor the impacts of air pollution on natural habitats and report annually.

New legislation to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuels will be brought in and “only the cleanest stoves” will be available for sale by 2022.

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.”

Jenifer Baxter, Head of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said that the report was a “missed opportunity” to provide greater clarity on how monitoring equipment and systems could be developed.

“With just 271 air quality monitoring stations throughout the UK, this strategy was an opportunity to improve our understanding of emissions, both across different sectors and the UK, and air pollution’s role in contributing to nearly 40,000 early deaths a year,” she said.

“We need legally binding commitments, particularly for transport and energy systems, that could help improve the quality of the air we breathe across the UK. Local authorities have already been given responsibility for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, but we need to be making a determined effort to deal with transport emissions more broadly.”

She said that “informed targets” need to be set based on air pollution data and called for greater investigation into the use of hydrogen as a clean fuel.

Last week, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan described the Capital’s poor air quality as a “public health emergency” ahead of the launch of a new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

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