Michael Gove’s new Clean Air Strategy

By Paul Homewood


DEFRA have launched their new Clean Air Strategy, as the Telegraph reports:



Under a new Government clean air strategy, some types of wood burners, car tyres, brakes, cleaning solvents, fertilisers and solid fuels will be banned from sale.

It is part of a new push to cut air pollution, which causes thousands of premature deaths in the UK every year.

Last year, air pollution levels in London were worse than those in Beijing for brief periods – with the capital’s pollutants frequently breaking international limits.

Pollution is a greater global threat than diseases such as Ebola and HIV, according to warnings by the World Health Organisation, and so the Government is seeking to clamp down on its causes…..

At a national level, the average concentration of the worst pollutants – Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PM10) – have halved in the last two decades.

Average levels of NO2 stood at 34μg/m3 at the roadside in 2017, down from 60 in 1997, while PM10 stood at 17 μg/m3, down from 37 in 1997.

Green campaigners, however, argue that this average level is still too high – and that localised pockets of pollution exceed health guidelines on a regular basis. The latest research shows that high air pollution levels result in some 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK.


Of course, we all want to breathe clean air, but please can we have a bit of proportion here?

For instance, as the Telegraph itself shows, air pollutant levels have fallen in leaps and bounds since the 1990s.



Clearly we must be getting something right.


The Telegraph also states that:

WHO guidelines state that cities should aim to have an annual average of no more than 10 micrograms of PM2.5 (very fine particulate matter) for every cubic metre of air. London had an annual PM2.5 average of 12 μg/m3 in 2016 – higher than the international recommendation, but still far lower than other megacities (Beijing’s average stood at 73μg/m3).

 There is in fact no scientific basis for WHO’s limit. The EU’s safety limit, for instance, is 25 μg/m of PM2.5.

Furthermore, to claim that air pollution levels in London were worse than those in Beijing for brief periods – with the capital’s pollutants frequently breaking international limits is grossly misleading. Both the WHO and EU limits are annual ones. It is quite common for weather conditions to cause spikes at times during the year, but this does not mean the capital’s pollutants are frequently breaking international limits, as the Telegraph claims.

And anybody who might be gullible enough to believe that London’s pollution is nearly as bad as Beijing’s should look at this table in the Telegraph:



This claim in the Telegraph piece is also grossly misleading:

Pollution is a greater global threat than diseases such as Ebola and HIV, according to warnings by the World Health Organisation, and so the Government is seeking to clamp down on its causes.

Air pollution most certainly is a huge problem for health globally, not least because of indoor fires for cooking. But to conflate pollution in Asia and elsewhere with that in the UK is not only ludicrous, but a wicked thing to do.

As is the Telegraph’s repetition of the incessant claims that tens of thousands are dying because of air pollution:


There is no evidence that 9.3% of deaths in Kensington are due to air pollution. At best, the research only suggests that it lead to premature deaths. This may just mean that people, who are already dying, die a few weeks earlier than otherwise.

Anybody who read this nonsense in the Telegraph would be entitled to think that we have a major crisis on our hands. Indeed, the Mail report Gove’s claim that “air pollution is contributing to a national health crisis”.

This really is the most abject drivel. What national health crisis? We all know about the obesity problem, and of course the biggest burden on the NHS is the simple fact that, on average, we are all living much longer than we used to.

But this is a funding problem, and is actually the opposite of a health crisis

One reason why I suggested that this demonization of air pollution is wicked is that it must make people neurotic, afraid to even go outdoors. One of the biggest threats to human health is obesity and lack of exercise. How many people will be scared to go out and ride a bike, or let their kids out to play, because of the ridiculous scaremongering?

Even DEFRA’s Daily Air Quality Index says that most of us should carry on as normal, even when air quality is only “moderate”.



Even today, with high pressure sitting over the country, air pollution has only reached Level 4:



It is also worth bearing in mind what DEFRA themselves say about PMs:

8.1 Particulate matter (PM or PM2.5)

Particulate matter is everything in the air that isn’t gas. This includes natural sources like pollen, sea spray and desert dust. It also includes human made sources like smoke and dust from exhausts, brakes and tyres. PM can travel large distances with up to 33% of PM2.5 originating from non-UK sources and around 15% from natural sources. PM is classified according to size. PM2.5 is less than 2.5um (micrometers) across, and is the main type of PM which is regulated.

PM can get into the lungs and blood and be transported around the body, lodging in the heart, brain and other organs.

PM emissions have reduced significantly in recent decades, but have recently stabilised. This is partly due to an increase in wood burning in homes.

The UK already meets the 2020 concentration limit of 20ug/m3. We have made legally binding commitments to further reduce the amount of PM2.5 that we emit into our air by 2020 and 2030.

Sources of PM

Particulate emissions in the UK come from:

  • 38% from burning wood and coal in domestic open fires and solid fuel stoves
  • 12% from road transport
  • 13% from solvent use and industrial processes
  • 16% from industrial combustion (non-domestic burning)



So maybe a third of air pollution actually comes from outside the UK, and 15% could come from natural sources.

As for UK emissions, road transport actually accounts for very little.


The strategy in recent years of gradually tightening up emission standards, for instance in cars, has clearly been the correct one, and it is one that we should be continuing to follow.

By contrast, the government’s new Clean Air Strategy appears to be an ill thought out, panicky reaction to what is really no more than an isolated and local problem, which could be solved with a little bit of initiative.



May 22, 2018 at 02:24PM

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