Cleaner air is among the priorities in the government’s long-awaited 25-Year Environment Strategy, launched by Prime Minister Theresa May today (11 January), although details as to how this will be achieved are still awaited.
The strategy covers the government’s key policy priority areas on environmental issues, predominantly focussing on measures to tackle plastic waste, tackling flooding and drought and supporting habitats for wildlife.
Whilst the strategy sets out a policy direction for a number of these issues through proposals such as the extension of the 5p carrier bag charge, much of the detail around how the government plans to tackle air pollution is left to the future publication of the Clean Air Strategy, slated for mid-2018.
The Clean Air Strategy, first mooted by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove last year, is expected to cover air pollution from a wide-range of sources including agriculture and solid fuel-burning, and will sit alongside proposals to tackle roadside NO2 emissions published in 2017.
Setting out the ambition for cleaner air within the plan, the government states: “We know that people who live in city centres and near busy roads – often those on the lowest incomes in society – are most likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. Epidemiological studies reveal that long-term exposure to this kind of pollution reduces life-expectancy, mainly through an increased risk of mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, and lung cancer.â€?
It adds: “The UK’s determination to improve air quality is reinforced by our commitment to meeting ambitious, legally-binding targets to cut emissions of five pollutants – ammonia, nitrogen oxides, non-methane volatile organic compounds, fine particulate matter and sulphur dioxide – by 2020 initially, and by 2030 for a deeper cut. Our commitment to meeting these legally binding targets is not affected by the UK’s departure from the EU.â€?
Offering further detail, the 25-Year Strategy states that the 2018 Clean Air plan will set out how the government will ‘continue to seek improvements to public health’, protect the environment, support clean growth, and work towards legally-binding ceilings on UK emissions of air pollution.
On the Clean Air Strategy, the document adds: “It will include looking at approaches to improve how farmers use fertilisers and reduce ammonia emissions to the air. It will set out how over the long term we will work towards a shift away from using solid fuels to heat people’s homes, to reduce air quality pollution.â€?
The 25-Year Strategy does offer clarity on proposals to curb emissions from combustion plants and generators through changes to legislation on medium-sized combustion plants (MCPs).
It states: “…the recent rapid growth of low-cost, small scale flexible power generators poses significant risks without appropriate controls. These generators are often fuelled by diesel and emit high levels of nitrogen oxides, posing a threat to both local and national air quality.â€?
The strategy notes that the government is taking forward legislation to tackle emissions from medium-sized combustion plants and generators, designed to target a reduction in sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide emissions.
Elsewhere the strategy reaffirms the government’s commitment to consulting on a new environmental watchdog to hold government to account for environmental standards
Announcing the Strategy alongside the Environment Secretary Michael Gove at the London Wetland Centre at Barnes, Wandsworth, today Mrs May praised Mr Gove and his team for their “enthusiasmâ€? and said that the strategy would deliver “clean air and a greener country for allâ€?.
Commenting on the strategy, Mr Gove added: “Our Environment Plan sets out how over the next 25 years we will radically reduce the waste that is choking oceans and rivers, cleanse our air of toxic pollutants and create new habitats for our most precious wildlife to thrive.
“Through this plan we will build on our reputation as a global leader in environmental protection, creating an environment everyone can enjoy and helping the next generation flourish.â€?
Defra – 25-Year Environment Strategy