It may be another three years until a target is set for reducing fine particulate matter (PM2.5), after the government introduced its Environment Bill in Parliament on Monday (October 15).
There was no mention of the World Health Organisation (WHO) annual mean guideline for PM2.5 of 10 μg/m3. Rather, it says the Secretary of State must seek independent advice before coming to a conclusion before October 31 2022 on what the target date should be.
It also says that they must be satisfied the target can be realistically met, which can be either a long term or short term ‘legally binding’ date to replace the current EU legislation.
However, a Defra report from July already said that it was ‘technically feasible’ that the WHO 2030 guideline could be met in the UK.
There was an expectation that the government could include in the bill a target date in line with the WHO guideline – and the potentially three-year delay before a date is announced was met with disappointment.
Transport & Environment said the decision not to include a target shows that the government is ‘racked with indecision’ on air pollution.
Jenny Bates from Friends of the Earth tweeted: ‘Legally-binding PM2.5 #AirPollution target is needed – but @DefraGovUK must be clear this is for @WHOatEU standard, & to be met by 2030 – as well as a right to clean air & a clean air duty for public bodies.’
Zak Bond from the British Lung Foundation tweeted: ‘If @GOVUK want to truly demonstrate their ambition, they need to urgently (not ’22) commit to reaching WHO limits for PM2.5 by 2030 at the latest.’
In an interview with The Times over the weekend, Boris Johnson hinted that the Bill would include measures to succeed the 1956 Clean Air Act, which regulated both domestic and industrial smoke emissions for the first time.
Simon Birkett from Clean Air In London said: ‘Shame on the prime minister for claiming that the Environment Bill would update the Clean Air Act and save lives. Existing emission laws would halve UK deaths from fine particles by 2030 except that Defra expects to breach them by 24% in 2020 and 52% in 2030.’
Read the section of the bill on PM2.5 here (p.12)
Also in the bill (p.185) was further detail on measures to curb pollution from coal and wood burning.
Local authorities will have the power to issue fines up to £300 if smoke is emitted from a chimney where a smoke control area has been declared.
There will also be penalties for retailers who sell controlled solid fuel to buildings where a smoke order applies.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Environment Secretary Theresa Villers said: ‘Air quality is the single greatest environmental threat to public health. But we would acknowledge so much more needs to be done.’