The government cannot achieve the air quality improvements advised by medical experts, so has set its targets lower for the next 10 years, Thérèse Coffey, the environment secretary has admitted as she unveiled a new environmental plan. Coffey also confirmed that there would be no major new funding for achieving the targets in the 262-page Environmental Improvement Plan
Doug Parr, UK policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: “If this is a roadmap, it’s a roadmap to the cliff edge. This Conservative government promised the most ambitious environmental plan of any country on earth. Instead, here’s yet more paperwork containing a threadbare patchwork of policies that fail to tackle many of the real threats to our natural world. This won’t do.”
Air pollution experts pointed to research by King’s College London and Imperial College London that has shown the government could achieve the more stringent targets, which are supported by the public in polls, if it took stronger action on the sources of pollution, which include diesel cars and wood-burning.
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of charity Asthma + Lung UK, said: “Air pollution is a public health emergency which causes 36,000 premature deaths in the UK every year. The government has ignored our calls to bring forward its compliance date, and instead said it will make our air cleaner by 2040. This falls far short of what’s needed – it means that for another 17 years, children will be forced to live, learn and play in toxic levels of air pollution, and a new generation will be condemned to breathe air so dirty it can stunt their lung growth, cause lung conditions like cancer, and trigger existing conditions including asthma.”
Richard Benwell, chief executive of the conservation group Wildlife and Countryside Link, said, “Too many people live in polluted, nature-deprived neighbourhoods, at great cost to mental and physical health,” he said. “Billions of pounds could be saved for the NHS if everyone lived in a healthy environment, and millions of lives could be brightened.”