The Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced an ‘ambitious strategy’ to tackle air pollution in the UK, in an attempt to reduce exposure to particulate matter, generally considered to be the most damaging pollutant.
It forms part of the Government’s Clean Air Strategy, which aims to reduce particulates to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations across the UK by 2030.
What’s The Problem With Wood B
urners And Fires?
Around 1.5 million households in the UK currently use wood for fuel. These fires emit more particles per hour than a diesel truck, due to the fact that a freshly cut log contains around a pint of water.
As a result, the heat energy of the fire burns out the water, causing the wood to smoke, so increasing air pollutants.
The Government’s Position
Current legal limits for pollution in the UK are twice as high as those recommended by the WHO.
However, the country is the first major economy in the world to commit to adopting the goals, earning praise from the WHO as ‘an example for the rest of the world to follow’.
Speaking about the proposals, Michael Gove said about the situation: ‘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.’
What Will The Strategy Include?
The Government has stated that it will publish evidence in early 2019 regarding the actions that will be needed to meet the target, but it’s believed that the Government’s strategy will include banning sales of heavily polluting burning log burners and open-fire fuels.
Sulphur and smoke emission limits would be applied to solid fuels, with a restriction on sales of wet wood, while sales of traditional house coal could be phased out completely.
From 2022, all stoves will comply with EU eco-design regulations, which allows combustion higher in the fire chamber, reducing emissions by 80% compared to stoves manufactured a decade ago.
The Health And Economic Impact
Air pollution is seen as the fourth biggest public health threat, beaten only by cancer, obesity and heart disease.
Around 30% of those preventable deaths in England not due to non-communicable disease are specifically attributed to air pollution, hence these proposals are predicted to save the country £1.7 billion per year by 2020, and £5.3 billion per annum by 2030.
Criticism Of The Policy
However, there are criticisms of the policy, with Dr Penny Woods of the British Lung Foundation saying ‘We’re disappointed that it doesn’t include a clear commitment to adopt the WHO limits for particulate matter pollution in the upcoming Environment Bill.’
Environmental campaigners, such as Jenny Bates, echoed her concerns, also criticising the Government for its lack of detail: ‘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.’
These proposals form only part of a wider policy that will encompass motoring and agriculture, and will give local authorities greater powers over existing smoke control areas.