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UK government launches new clean air strategy; ending sales of conventional diesel and gasoline LDVs by 2040

UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove a new to cut air pollution backed up through new primary legislation. The UK said it will go further and faster than the EU in reducing human exposure to particulate matter pollution. These proposals are in addition to the government’s £3.5-billion (US$4.7-billion) plan to reduce air pollution from road transport and diesel vehicles, set out in July last year.

The European Commission is taking the UK to court—along with Germany, France, Italy, Romania, and Hungary—over its long-standing failure to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO₂).

The new UK strategy, now out for consultation, is a key part of a 25-Year Plan; stated goals for the strategy include:

  • By 2025, to halve the number of people living in locations where concentrations of particulate matter are above the WHO guideline limit of 10 ug/m3.

  • To introduce new primary legislation, which will give local government new powers to improve air quality.

  • To legislate to ensure only the cleanest domestic fuels will be available for sale, preventing 8,000 tonnes of harmful particulate matter from entering the atmosphere each year.

  • To take concerted action to tackle ammonia from farming, responsible for 88% of ammonia emissions, by requiring farmers to invest in the infrastructure and equipment that will reduce emissions. Farmers will be supported to achieve this through a new system of public money for public goods.

  • To work with international partners to research and develop new standards for tires and brakes to address toxic non-exhaust emissions of micro plastics from vehicles which can pollute air and water.

  • To provide a personal air quality messaging system to inform the public, particularly those who are vulnerable to air pollution, about the air quality forecast, providing clearer information on air pollution episodes and accessible health advice.

Among the other actions detailed in the new plan to reduce emissions from transport are:

  • A coming plan to reduce emissions from shipping and aviation.

  • Ending the sale of new conventional diesel and gasoline cars and vans by 2040.

  • New legislation enabling the Transport Secretary to compel manufacturers to recall vehicles and machinery for any failures in their emissions control system, and make tampering with an emissions control system a legal offense.

  • A coming plan to phase out diesel-only trains by 2040.

  • Air quality strategies for all major English ports.

Air quality has improved significantly since 2010 but sixty years on from the historic Clean Air Act a clear truth remains—air pollution is making people ill, shortening lives and damaging our economy and environment. This is why today we are launching this clean air strategy, backed up with new primary legislation. It sets out the comprehensive action required across all parts of government to improve air quality.

—Environment Secretary Gove

The UK also released a report showing just 1 in 5 respondents felt they knew a lot about the effects of air pollution. The report also showed a lack of awareness of the wide range of sources of air pollution with most naming transport as the main cause. However, transport emissions are only one part of the problem. From farming to cleaning solvents there are a large range of other day to day practices, processes and products that produce harmful emissions.

Of particular concern, the government noted, is burning wood and coal to heat a home which contributes 38% of UK emissions of damaging particulate matter. Cleaner fuels and stoves produce less smoke, less soot and more heat. In future only the cleanest domestic fuels will be available for sale.

Also announced, by UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, was a new tool for local authorities developed for Public Health England by Imperial College and the UK Health Forum which will enable local authorities to estimate the economic impact of air pollution in their area. The tool takes account of the cumulative cost for diseases where there is a strong association with air pollution: coronary heart disease; stroke; lung cancer; and child asthma.

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