Big interview: Geraint Davies MP

Air Quality News editor Chloe Coules speaks to Geraint Davies MP about the UK’s proposed air quality targets, preventing an increase in domestic burning as fuel poverty rises, and becoming a global leader on air pollution.  

Through his role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Air Pollution, Geraint Davies has been championing air quality in parliament for many years. 

He first tabled the idea of a Clean Air Bill back in 2014 and received the backing of more than 100 parliamentarians. He also regularly holds the government to account on issues ranging from air quality targets to wood burning.  

Through his experience as an MP in Croydon, Mr Davies witnessed the impact of air quality on urban communities. Now the MP for Swansea West, he is faced with a different range of constituent issues, but air quality is still at the front of his mind. 

‘The more you look into this, the more you are aware of the threats and dangers that surround you. Once you tell people the dangers then they become more interested in the problem, but it is something that has sadly been neglected, partly because of the interests of car manufacturers and petrol companies,’ he tells Air Quality News 

Preventing an increase in domestic burning 

Mr Davies is particularly concerned about increasing numbers of people in the UK turning to wood burning stoves to heat their homes.  

‘There is two and a half million people with them already, and wood burning stoves are worse in terms of the rate of particulate emissions than HGV trucks. The idea that there is a Defra-approved wood burning stove is a bit like me saying to you, “Smoke filtered cigarettes – they are not harmful”.’ 

With the End Fuel Poverty Coalition warning that one in three UK households could end up in fuel poverty as energy bills soar due the Ukraine crisis, Mr Davies says that there is a risk that many people will burn wood to escape rising gas prices.  

‘Clearly the government needs to come up with radical plans to combat fuel poverty, and the answer is not for people to just burn a load of wood. It is to ensure that we have got affordable gas and petrol in the short term, as we move over to renewables.’ 

He tells Air Quality News that we need to invest in natural energy solutions as part of a strategy to tackle the cost-of-living crisis: ‘The government really should be getting behind scaling up in a mass-market way opportunities for harnessing natural energy as part of solving the social justice issue around people having affordable heat. We should not resort to burning wood, however in the short term, I appreciate there is a bit of a problem.’ 

Becoming a global leader  

Geraint Davies thinks that the UK has an opportunity to become a global leader on clean air, but he fears we are not taking full advantage of this chance.  

‘The government did bring forward the Environment Act last year, however they failed to use the opportunity of hosting COP26 to implement immediate enforceable World Health Organisation air quality standards to save people’s lives, as a showcase to the world of a way of combatting the 8.7 million people who die each year prematurely from air pollution globally.’ 

He argues that in the wake of Brexit and the war in Ukraine, it is important that the UK focuses its efforts on taking leadership on green issues and creating future technologies to export.  

‘The false presumption is that investing in green technology or saving people’s lives is somehow something we cannot afford.’ 

‘It is important that we do what we can to double our efforts to deliver exports, because we are now dealt a more difficult hand to negotiate trade terms [post-Brexit], so we have got to have better products to sell. Taking leadership on the future stage, which is obviously a green stage, is very important.’ 

‘Both to save the world, and speed up our economies towards saving the world, the British economy should be ahead of the game, and having self-imposed constraints like World Health Organisation air quality standards helps focus the manufacturing effort to get ourselves ahead of the game and into global leadership, rather than lagging behind and importing other people’s technology.’ 

Mr Davies tells Air Quality News that the Ukraine crisis is also a ‘wake up call’ that the power of big countries challenging democracy is fed by the West buying fossil fuels. ‘This is part of a bigger picture: solving air pollution and generating products that help is a part of the picture for [tackling] climate change, but also in some strange way supports our democracies as well. A greener and stronger Britain is consistent with supporting our democracy.’ 

Setting air quality standards 

The government recently proposed including a legally binding target in the Environment Act to reduce levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2040.  

However, this highly anticipated target has been met with disappointment from campaigners and the air quality industry for not going far enough to tackle the dangers of PM2.5 

Geraint Davies adds his voice to the criticism, calling the proposed targets a ‘death sentence’ for thousands of people exposed to toxic air. 

He tells Air Quality News: ‘The UK Government proposal that we only aim for PM2.5 target of 10ug/m3 at a few official monitors between 2037-2040 represents an early death sentence for tens of thousands of people caught in a toxic urban environment.  

‘We know that a PM2.5 target of 10ug/m3 by 2030 is achievable if we take decisive action on monitoring and reversing the growth of wood-burning stoves, that air pollution costs 62,000 deaths and £20 billion a year. The Government has a duty to protect lives and public health before the interests of big oil and motor companies and should reverse this reckless proposal.’ 

This article first appeared in the April issue of Air Quality News magazine – read it in full here


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2 years ago

Very good, thank you. Mr. Davies is a real champion for clean air and needs to be listened to by a wider audience. Is there a way to get the article into the mainstream newspapers? Where Mr. Davies has likened the new stoves to filtered cigarettes, I was reminded of something I read recently saying that filtered cigarettes turned out to be more damaging because they filter smoke particles more directly into the lungs.Perhaps the new stoves make even finer particles though more efficient combustion and that is worse for us too? Doesn’t anyone here know of any scientific studies on this? Additionally, if cigarette packets have to display health warnings, then so should wood stoves. The other problem about fuel poverty is that some individuals will now resort to burning damp wood and rubbish.

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