Michael Gove – 2018 Speech on Clean Air Strategy

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on 22 May 2018.

Today, the Government published their consultation on a clean air strategy. At the most fundamental level, our health and prosperity depend on the health of the planet on which we live. From the air we breathe to the water we drink, the food we eat and the energy which powers our homes and businesses, we need to ensure we have a healthy and sustainable environment.

Nowhere is this more true than in the case of air quality. Air pollution is a major public health risk ranking alongside cancer, heart disease and obesity. It causes more harm than passive smoking.

This clean air strategy sets out the case for action and demonstrates this Government’s determination to improve our air quality. Leaving the EU provides us with an excellent opportunity to be even more ambitious about achieving cleaner air for the health of the nation, and for our environment and the biodiversity it sustains. We want to do all that we can to reduce people’s exposure to pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, ammonia, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and sulphur dioxide.

Air pollution has improved since 2010, but we recognise that there is more to do. This comprehensive clean air strategy sets out how we will tackle all sources of air pollution, making our air healthier to breathe, protecting nature and boosting the economy.

Government must act to tackle air pollution which shortens lives. We are already acting to reduce concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (N02) around roads from cars, but vehicles are not the only source of toxic emissions. Air pollution is a result of the way we currently generate power, heat our homes, produce food, manufacture consumer goods and power transport. Better, cleaner technologies and simple changes in behaviour will tackle the pollution that claims lives.

The new strategy is a key part of our 25-year plan to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. It sets out the comprehensive action that is required from across all parts of government and society to meet the challenge. By 2025, we will halve the number of people living in locations where concentrations of particulate matter are above the World Health Organisation guideline limit of 10 ug/m3, protecting public health.

Through the introduction of new primary legislation, we will introduce a stronger and more coherent legislative framework for action to tackle air pollution, giving local government new powers to take decisive action in areas with an air pollution problem.

We are investing £10 million in improving our modelling, data and analytical tools to give a more precise picture of current air quality and the impact of policies on it in ​future. Alongside this, we will seek ways to support further investment in research and innovation, in partnership with UKRI, which will help the UK become world leaders in clean technology and secure further emissions reductions.

From farming to consumer products, a large range of other day-to-day practices, processes and products produce harmful emissions. Of particular concern is burning wood and coal to heat a home, which contributes 38% to harmful particulate matter emissions. It is why we will ensure only the cleanest fuels will be available for sale and only the cleanest stoves will be available to buy and install.

For the first time, the Government will take concerted action to tackle ammonia from farming by requiring and supporting farmers to invest in the infrastructure and equipment that will reduce emissions. The agriculture sector accounts for 88% of UK emissions of ammonia, and action by farmers can make a big difference in reducing the impacts of excess nitrogen on sensitive habitats and reducing the overall background levels of particulates in the atmosphere.

Government cannot act alone in tackling air pollution, and our strategy sets out how we will work with businesses, farmers and industry to implement lasting solutions to reduce air pollution, and the importance of each of us taking action and playing an important role in cleaning up our air for the next generation.

These actions will, we hope, ensure that this country is recognised as the leading global champion of cleaner air for the next generation.