The UK government has announced new targets to be included in the Environment Act, including a legally binding target to reduce levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2040.
The new targets also include a 35% reduction in population exposure to PM2.5 by 2040, compared to levels in 2018.
The proposed targets will now be subject to an eight-week consultation, where government will seek the views of environment groups, local authorities and stakeholders.
Exposure to PM2.5 can trigger heart attacks and strokes, increase the risk of asthma attacks resulting in hospitalization, cause lung cancer and stunt the lung growth of children.
The World Health Organization recommends that concentrations of PM2.5 not exceed an annual mean concentration of 5µg/m3.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “These proposed targets are intended to set a clear, long-term plan for nature’s recovery. In a post EU era, we now have the freedom to move towards a system that focuses on nature’s recovery as well as its preservation, and which places more emphasis on science and less emphasis on legal process. This change in approach will help us in the pursuit of the targets we are setting under the Environment Act.”
However, the targets have been criticised for not going far enough to tackle air pollution.
Non-profit legal organisation ClientEarth commented that the proposed air quality target would ‘fail another generation of children’.
Katie Nield, lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, said: “The target date that the UK Government is proposing is far from ‘world-leading’. It means that another generation of children will be exposed to toxic pollution far above what the world’s top scientists think is acceptable. Ministers need to seriously reconsider their proposal.”
Recent research from Clean Air Fund and Imperial College London found that if the government implements planned environmental, transport and clean air policies, air pollution levels could fall within the recommended interim target from the World Health Organization of 10µg/m3 across most parts of the UK by 2030.
The research found that implementing existing government plans by 2030 would have significant positive impacts on public health and could lead to children across the UK suffering an average of 388,000 fewer days of asthma symptoms a year, as well as a significant fall in cases of coronary heart disease and a rise in average life expectancy of 9-10 weeks across those born in 2018.
In total, the health and economic benefits, including reduced pressure on the NHS and higher productivity, could be worth up to £380bn between 2018 and 2134.