Government air quality failings represent deadly reluctance to take expert advice says UK100

Government air quality failings represent deadly reluctance to take expert advice says UK100

UK100, the network of local authorities, responds to new Defra air quality statistics that reveal PM2.5 pollution exceeded legal limits in 2021.

Responding to the latest air quality statistics release from Defra [1], UK100’s Interim Chief Executive, Jason Torrance, said: “The latest statistics reveal the worrying scale of the Government’s air quality failures — with the PM2.5 emissions, just about the deadliest air pollutant, not just rising, but exceeding legal limits.”

The latest air quality statistics come just days after the head of The Office of Environmental Protection revealed that the Defra Secretary of State, Thérèse Coffey, ignored the regulatory body’s advice to set a 2030 deadline to meet WHO PM2.5 air pollution limits.

Jason continued: “The Defra secretary’s decision to ignore expert advice from The Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) on WHO PM2.5 limits already looked reckless. Now it looks like a deadly dereliction of duty.”

UK100, the UK’s only cross-party network of local authorities committed to Net Zero and Clean Air, previously wrote to the Secretary of State making the same recommendation as the OEP and offering to work with Defra to implement ambitious clean air policies up and down the country.

Jason added: “There is the ambition across the country to take this issue seriously. Ambitious local authorities have already committed to meeting WHO legal limits in their region and offered to work with Defra to ensure their residents can breathe more easily. We urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the OEP’s advice and work with local leaders to stamp out the toxic air crisis sooner rather than later.”

Noting that domestic wood burning (21%) is the primary source of PM2.5 pollution in the UK (and emissions have risen by 124% since 2011) [2], Jason goes on to highlight UK100’s Yes We CANZ! report, which argues there is a greater need to carefully consider the clean air impact of climate policies and vice versa — calling for a joined-up approach to both.

Jason concluded: “It’s easy to think of air pollution as just a road transport and exhaust emissions problem, but it is more complicated than that. Domestic wood burning and biomass are the biggest drivers of the recent rise in PM2.5 pollutants.

“That’s why it was disappointing that Ministers refused to respond to UK100’s Clean Air Net Zero report, which advocates for a joined-up approach to policymaking that ensures that we learn the lessons of Dieselgate and carefully consider the air quality impacts of climate policies. Nowhere do we need to learn that lesson faster than with the rise of domestic wood burning.”

About the Defra statistics

[1] In the statistics release, Defra admits: “For PM2.5, there is a single annual ceiling of 80.8 thousand tonnes of emissions between 2020 and 2029 (set at a 30 per cent reduction from 2005 levels), applicable to both the NECR and the CLRTAP. In 2021, the UK was not compliant with this commitment, with 83.2 thousand tonnes of PM2.5 emissions.”

[2] The PM2.5 data release notes: “Considerable decreases in emissions from some sectors have been largely offset by increases in emissions from wood burning in domestic settings and from solid fuel burning by industry (particularly the burning of biomass).”

The release also notes: “Domestic combustion is a major source of particulate matter emissions in 2021, accounting for 16% of PM10 emissions and 27% of PM2.5 emissions. Most emissions from this source come from households burning wood in closed stoves and open fires. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, coal use in domestic combustion was the largest source of particulate matter emissions; coal now accounts for a very small proportion of emissions from this source (13% in 2021), while the use of wood as a fuel accounted for 75% of PM2.5 emissions from domestic combustion in 2021. Emissions of PM2.5 from domestic wood burning increased by 124% between 2011 and 2021, to represent 21% of total PM2.5. emissions in 2021.”

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