As we rebuild our economy in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Ministers will continue to shape a cleaner, greener and more resilient society.
It is encouraging that air pollution has reduced significantly in the past decade. Emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by 33 per cent and are at their lowest level since records began, however, there is still more to do.
I am therefore pleased that the Clean Air Strategy aims to cut air pollution and save lives, backed up by new primary legislation. The strategy details how the UK will go further and faster than the EU in reducing exposure to particulate matter pollution. It sets out a goal to halve the number of people living in locations with concentrations of particulate matter above WHO guidelines and I am encouraged that it has been described by the WHO as 'an example for the rest of the world to follow'.
The Environment Bill builds on this strategy. It will drive significant environmental improvement and tackle pollution by setting and achieving legally-binding, long-term targets in key areas including air quality, water, and resource efficiency and waste. I am pleased that the Bill introduces a duty on the Government to set at least two air quality targets by October 2022; a target to reduce the annual average level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air, and a further target to improve air quality.
This action is backed up by a £3.8 billion plan to improve air quality and create cleaner transport. This includes nearly a £1.5 billion investment to support the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles; £1.2 billion to increase cycling and walking and make our roads safer for vulnerable users; and £880 million to help local authorities develop and implement local air quality plans and to support those impacted by these plans. A further £2.5 billion will support a number of cities improve their local transport systems through the Transforming Cities Fund.
Ministers know there is a strong case for taking ambitious action on PM2.5 as it is the pollutant that has the most significant impact on health. That is why they are introducing a duty to set a PM2.5 target, alongside at least one additional long-term air quality target, in the Environment Bill. I am pleased that they will also consider the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for PM2.5 at part of this process. Ministers are developing a clear evidence-based process for setting the fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) target introduced in the Environment Bill. This process will involve thorough analysis and independent expert advice, considering economic, social and technological factors. It will also involve detailed analysis to assess what additional action would be needed to achieve potential targets. I am pleased that both Parliament and the public will have the opportunity to provide input to the development of an ambitious and achievable target.