Environment Secretary Michael Gove has today launched a new strategy to clean up the UK's air and save lives.
Air pollution is one of the biggest threats to public health in the UK – behind only cancer, obesity and heart disease – and the measures set out in the new Clean Air Strategy are said to cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3billion every year from 2030.
The UK will set an ambitious, long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter (PM), which the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified as the most damaging pollutant. To inform development of this new target, the government will publish evidence early this year on what action will be needed to meet WHO guidelines.
This comes on top of a commitment to halve the number of people living in areas breaching WHO guidelines on PM by 2025.
The UK is the first major economy to adopt air quality goals based on WHO recommendations, going far beyond EU requirements.
Launching the Clean Air Strategy, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: "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.
"While air pollution may conjure images of traffic jams and exhaust fumes, transport is only one part of the story and the new strategy sets out the important role all of us – across all sectors of work and society – can play in reducing emissions and cleaning up our air to protect our health."
The government reports that domestic burning on stoves and open fires are now the single biggest source of particulate matter emissions, so as part of the new strategy it will:
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, said: "Air pollution kills seven million people globally every year, making it one of the largest and most urgent threats to global health of our time,
"I applaud the United Kingdom’s Clean Air Strategy, which will not only help to protect the health of millions of people, but is also an example for the rest of the world to follow."