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Gove targets decarbonisation of rail industry in clean air strategy

Words: Laura Edgar
Smog over Manchester / iStock-177875958

The government plans to support farmers to reduce ammonia emissions and the rail industry on decarbonisation as it looks to protect the nation’s health.

Clean Air Strategy 2019 aims to cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020. This is expected to rise to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.

A consultation on the strategy was launched in May last year.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified particulate matter as the most damaging pollutant, and the UK will set an “ambitious, long-term” target to reduce people’s exposure to it, the government explained. Development of the target will be informed by evidence the government will be publishing early this year.

The government is also committed to halving the number of people living in areas that breach WHO guidelines on particulate matter by 2025.

Although rail transport is considered to be a cleaner form of transport, the strategy states that more can and should be done to improve air quality across the rail sector. The government has asked the industry to set up a task force to look at how this can be done, and how the industry could remove all diesel-only trains by 2040. The strategy states that the government will work closely with the decarbonisation task force and industry early this year to tackle air quality within the wider rail industry, including all stations.

The government is also targeting the aviation sector. It will work with the industry and environmental groups, among others, to develop a series of plans and roadmaps for how it intends to make the visions for Aviation 2050, currently out for consultation, a reality.

Active travel is being encouraged for shorter journeys to reduce traffic congestion, while improving bus and rail services would take cars off the road.

The strategy lays out a number of key measures that farmers can undertake to control ammonia emissions, including using low-emissions techniques for spreading slurries, washing down animal collection points soon after use, and covering slurry digestate stores or using slurry bags.

Although the pig and poultry sectors are regulated, the emissions from dairy and intensive beef farms are not. The government will work with the dairy and beef industries to reduce ammonia and other pollutant emissions, and to agree on appropriate emissions limits and Best Available Technique (BAT) documents for limiting pollution.

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.”

A recent rise in popularity in domestic burning on stoves and open fires has seen this become the biggest source of particulate matter emissions. The strategy seeks to address this by ensuring that only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022 and continue to explore how the government can give local authorities powers to increase the rate of upgrades of inefficient and polluting heating appliances.

According to the strategy, the government also plans to provide guidance for local authorities explaining how cumulative impacts of nitrogen deposition on natural
habitats should be mitigated and assessed through the planning system.

Health secretary Matt Hancock emphasised that air pollution is a health issue.

“For each of us, our health is unavoidably shaped by the environment we live in. Environmental factors determine around 30 per cent of our healthy life expectancy. Air pollution poses the single greatest environmental threat to human health.

“No one can tackle air pollution alone, so it is a duty of government to act for us all. We are determined to clean up our environment and are taking the lead with this clean air strategy.”

The Clean Air Strategy 2019 can be found on the UK Government website.

Image credit | iStock