What is the Clean Air Strategy?
In the middle of January, Michael Gove launched a new scheme to tackle the UK pollution crisis. The strategy targets public communications, behavioural changes, and consumer choices. It’s basically a whole bunch of plans for how we’re going to deal with the pollution problem. With all the Brexit news and anarchy across the front pages seemingly every day, it didn’t get much attention in the media, but it’s an important document to understand.
How bad is the UK’s pollution problem?
It ain’t great. While we’re certainly not the most polluted nation on the planet (shout out to India), it’s still a huge problem. A study by UNICEF this week showed that more than 90% of child health experts were concerned about the lack of public awareness, and the government has long been criticised for not doing enough to tackle the issue. It’s easy to see why people are riled up; figures released last year by the Office for National Statistics showed a record number of people dying of asthma, with experts responding that air pollution was a likely large contributing factor.
The Clean Air Strategy claims that air quality is “the largest environmental health risk in the UK.”
How does the Clean Air Strategy propose tackling the issue?
The strategy as a whole is based around increasing public awareness, limiting domestic burning, and encouraging low emission vehicles and a cleaner national transport system. It also places a lot of emphasis on the involvement of health professionals to steer the campaign. It’s designed to be implemented alongside the Industrial Strategy, the Clean Growth Strategy and the 25 Year Environment Plan.
One of the biggest criticisms in this whole thing is that the central government is not doing enough, and rather relying on local authorities to enforce higher standards of air quality. As far as we can tell, the Clean Air Strategy isn’t doing much to change that, and in fact is handing more powers to local councils in order to help them achieve this. That’s all well and good, but there’s no escaping the fact that this is not a localised issue, it’s a national issue and we’re a little disappointed that the Clean Air Strategy fails to treat it as such.
It’s a bit of a mixed bag, and does at times seem disingenuous. It’s all good and well to say that “future electricity, heat and industrial policies will together improve air quality and tackle climate change”, however the reality is that important green energy projects are being rejected left, right and centre by this government, and the UK continues to have the highest subsidies in Europe for fossil fuels.
As strategies go, it’s frustratingly nonspecific. On the other hand, it’s a start, and the method of influencing behavioural change by educating the general public is a concept that we’re big fans of. Our hope is that this strategy will guide the government towards a greater focus on reducing pollution in the UK.