The UK announced ambitious new plans to combat air pollution last week, that would represent the world’s most stringent regulations against particle pollution, according to Science. A 104 page draft of the Clean Air Strategy was released by Theresa May’s government on May 22nd, for a public comment period.
By 2025, the plan seeks a 50 percent reduction in the number of people in the UK breathing air with concentrations of fine particulate matter that exceed World Health Organization standards, which are set at 10 micrograms per cubic meter as a yearly average.
The EU’s more relaxed standards will be set at 20 micrograms per cubic meter in 2020, down from an even higher limit in place currently. The US standard is 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The proposed UK standards would be the most stringent in the world.
Breathing in this particulate matter can cause damage to the lungs, and prove fatal over time.
As part of its efforts to meet those standards, the plan proposes new regulations to limit emissions from domestic stoves and fireplaces, which generate 38 percent of particulate pollution in the UK. Emissions standards for new stoves would be raised, as well as new rules on the use of high pollution fuels such as wet wood.
Additionally, the new standards will seek to address particulate smog from ammonia emissions generated by agriculture. These emissions react with other chemicals in the atmosphere to form dangerous particulates. This kind of air pollution has proven difficult to control. With 88 percent of UK ammonia emissions coming from fertilizer and manure use on farms, the limits could prove tough to enforce and are likely to encounter resistance from the agriculture sector.
Air quality advocates have lauded the goals, but also have warned that these targets will be tough to meet – especially since so much of the UK’s air pollution arrives from other European nations, especially in southeast England. One-third of the UK’s smog arises from precursor gases that drift over from mainland Europe. Effectively cutting UK air pollution will certainly require cooperation with other EU nations – at a time when this relationship is as strained as ever.
And with financial and political challenges, homegrown air pollution will also prove difficult to regulate effectively. The plan is set to be finalized in 2019.
University of York atmospheric chemist Alastair Lewis notes that even though the plan only calls for a 50 percent reduction, the targets will “become the de facto standard that people will hold [the government] to. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle and pretend you never said it.”
“The question is: Have they really set out a case that they will have the resources and the capacity to do that?”