Agricultural fertiliser under scrutiny in Government air pollution plans

Farming has yet again come under fire in a new Government set of ambitious long-term air pollution targets which go far beyond EU requirements.

Fertiliser use, spreading techniques and lower emission farm buildings and equipment are all on the Government’s radar in its radical bid to slash air pollutants.

The UK is first major economy to adopt goals based on World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

The proposals pledge to cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.

These savings arise from public health benefits as actions in the strategy prevent sick days and lower costs to the NHS.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove launched the ambitious new strategy today (Monday, January 14).

Air pollution

Air pollution is one of the biggest threats to public health in the UK – behind only cancer, obesity and heart disease.

The targets will focus on reducing exposure to particulate matter (PM), which the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified as the most damaging pollutant.

The Government will publish evidence early this year on what action would be needed to meet the WHO guidelines.

This comes on top of a commitment to halve the number of people living in areas breaching WHO guidelines on PM by 2025.

Launching the Clean Air Strategy, 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.”

The Clean Air Strategy sets out a programme of work across Government, industry and society to reduce emissions coming from a wide range of sources.

Following a recent increase in popularity, domestic burning on stoves and open fires is now the single biggest source of particulate matter emissions, which is why as the new strategy will:

  • Introduce new legislation to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuels;
  • Ensure that only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022;
  • Continue to explore how we can give local authorities powers to increase the rate of upgrades of inefficient and polluting heating appliances;
  • Bring existing smoke control legislation up to date, and make it easier to enforce.

Impact on farming

The Government is also taking action to further reduce air pollution from agriculture, which is reportedly responsible for up to 88% of ammonia emissions.

Key actions for the sector include:

  • Supporting farmers to invest in infrastructure and equipment to reduce emissions;
  • Introducing regulations to require farmers to use low emission farming techniques;
  • Introducing regulations to minimise pollution from fertiliser use.

The Government has said it will provide farmers with the support they need to make these important changes.

Supporting the changes

In September 2018 it launched a new £3 million programme through the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership to fund a team of specialists who work with farmers and landowners in priority areas to provide training events, tailored advice, individual farm visits and support with grant applications.

The Agriculture Bill already sets out how future financial support for the farming sector will be focussed on delivering improvements to the environment.

It proposes that a future environmental land management system should fund targeted action to protect habitats impacted by ammonia.

By taking action on air pollution, the Government can help people live well for longer and support the NHS Long Term Plan, which has a greater focus on prevention rather than cure.

Revised damage costs for air pollutants, also published today, show the cost to society of air pollution per tonne of emissions is greater than previously thought for some pollutants.

The updated costs reflect improved understanding of the long-term health impacts of air pollution, incorporating the costs of additional health conditions such heart disease and childhood asthma, in addition to the effect of shortening lives, which was already included.

This new work means that the estimated impact of the measures included in the Clean Air Strategy are larger than when the draft strategy was published for consultation last May.