Clean­ing up our pol­luted air will save lives

Yes, it’s an am­bi­tious plan, but by work­ing to­gether we can re­duce the harm caused by emis­sions

The Daily Telegraph - - Comment - Matt Han­cock and Michael Gove

New year is tra­di­tion­ally a time when peo­ple set about chang­ing their lives for the bet­ter. And to help the na­tion live more healthily, we are kick‑start­ing the year with a pledge to clean up the coun­try’s air.

Our health isn’t de­ter­mined only by what hap­pens in hos­pi­tals and doc­tors’ surg­eries. Around 30 per cent of what con­trib­utes to a healthy life­span is the en­vi­ron­ment. Most harm­ful emis­sions are out of in­di­vid­u­als’ con­trol, so we have a duty to take ac­tion – and we know the big­gest sin­gle en­vi­ron­men­tal cause of death is air pol­lu­tion.

Poor air qual­ity harms the vul­ner­a­ble most of all, but none of us is im­mune and the ef­fects stay with us through­out our lives. The lungs of chil­dren whose play­ground is by a busy road are less de­vel­oped, and air pol­lu­tion leaves them more sus­cep­ti­ble to con­di­tions such as asthma. Equally, it can shorten the lives of el­derly peo­ple, who may al­ready suf­fer from an ex­ist­ing heart or lung con­di­tion, and has­ten a de­cline in men­tal skills. To­day, to pro­tect all of us from risk, we are pub­lish­ing our am­bi­tious clean air strat­egy.

We are build­ing on a record of progress. Air qual­ity has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years. Emis­sions of harm­ful ni­tro­gen ox­ides, half of which come from trans­port, have fallen by more than a quar­ter since 2010. But we are de­ter­mined to go fur­ther.

We’re al­ready tack­ling pol­lu­tion from ve­hi­cles. We’re spend­ing

£3.5 bil­lion on im­prov­ing road­side air qual­ity and en­cour­ag­ing cleaner forms of trans­port, such as elec­tric ve­hi­cles. We’re sup­port­ing coun­cils in de­sign­ing be­spoke mea­sures, such as retrofitting pol­lut­ing buses, to deal with lo­cal hotspots, and we’re end­ing the sale of new diesel and petrol ve­hi­cles by 2040.

But the chal­lenge goes wider than ve­hi­cles. The type of air pol­lu­tion that causes the great­est harm to health is par­tic­u­late mat­ter. These are tiny par­ti­cles that en­ter the lungs and blood stream and are trans­ported around the body, harm­ing the heart, brain and other or­gans. Burn­ing coal and wood in our homes ac­counts for the largest pro­por­tion of emis­sions – fol­lowed by in­dus­try and trans­port. So to tackle all types of dam­ag­ing air pol­lu­tion, we must act across gov­ern­ment and across the econ­omy.

The clean air strat­egy, drawn up after a three‑month con­sul­ta­tion, will sup­port the new NHS 10‑year plan. To get the best value from the ex­tra £20.5 bil­lion that the Gov­ern­ment is in­vest­ing in the NHS – its big­gest‑ever fund­ing in­crease – we must fo­cus more on pre­ven­tion. By tack­ling air pol­lu­tion now, we will avoid peo­ple suf­fer­ing ill‑health and also avoid fu­ture fi­nan­cial pres­sures on the NHS.

The health ar­gu­ment, then, is cru­cial. But there are eco­nomic ben­e­fits, too. Cleaner air and health­ier peo­ple mean fewer work days lost to ill­ness. Our fo­cus on air qual­ity means world‑ lead­ing busi­nesses are re­spond­ing in kind – in­vest­ing in new tech­nolo­gies like elec­tric ve­hi­cles, cre­at­ing skilled UK jobs and de­vel­op­ing ex­per­tise here.

The mea­sures we un­veil to­day tar­get all ma­jor sources of pol­lu­tion – trans­port, in­dus­try, agri­cul­ture and also our own homes. We will tackle the ris­ing emis­sions of am­mo­nia from farm­ing, which harm plants and wildlife, and con­trib­ute to par­tic­u­late mat­ter pol­lu­tion. With our sup­port, farm­ers will be us­ing cleaner equip­ment, such as low‑emis­sion slurry spread­ers, and we will reg­u­late to min­imise pol­lu­tion from fer­tilis­ers.

To re­duce par­tic­u­late mat­ter pol­lu­tion from homes, we will ban the sale of the most pol­lut­ing fu­els, and amend smoke con­trol laws to make it eas­ier for coun­cils to en­force them. We will also give the pub­lic clear in­for­ma­tion about the clean­est ways to burn do­mes­tic solid fu­els.

Our tar­get is to halve the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing above World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion guide­line lim­its for par­tic­u­late mat­ter pol­lu­tion by 2025 – that’s more am­bi­tious than the EU re­quires. Be­yond 2025, this strat­egy also com­mits us to a new long‑term tar­get to re­duce par­tic­u­late mat­ter. In the com­ing months, we will out­line the ac­tions nec­es­sary if we are to meet the WHO limit through­out Eng­land.

The De­part­ments of Health and En­vi­ron­ment, Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs, will be work­ing to­gether – but this prob­lem is not just for gov­ern­ment to solve. That’s why we are work­ing so closely with busi­nesses, and also en­cour­ag­ing in­di­vid­u­als to change how they heat their home, how they travel and even the clean­ing prod­ucts they use. Be­cause by act­ing to­gether on air qual­ity, we can all look for­ward to health­ier lives.

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