No major new funding as UK abandons recommended air pollution targets

Downing Street’s 262-page Environmental Investment Plan (EIP), published this week, contains no commitments to increase funding for most environmental issues, including air quality, as bar is set lower than leading health experts advised. 

Following the publication of the document, Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey issued a stark statement about the need to manage expectations, and in turn setting UK’s limits on air pollution for the next ten years at a higher level than bodies such as the World Health Organisation have recommended. This comes just a week after an air pollution warning spanning several days was issued for London. 

factory producing smokes

‘We have cleaner air. I want it to be even cleaner. Now, I would have loved to have made our target to achieve 10 micrograms [of PM2.5, per cubic metre of air] by 2030, not 2040. Many parts of the country already enjoy this, but the evidence shows us that with the best will in the world we cannot achieve that everywhere by the end of the decade, particularly in London,’ Coffey said. 

Despite this, a number of campaigners, charity organisations and research bodies have argued against the claim in favour of introducing tighter targets and regulations which could mean falling in line with the recommended limits. Crucially, concerns over diesel cars – new models of which will no longer be sold after 2030, but the second hand market will continue – and wood burning are particularly widespread. 

Just last week, a public health warning was issued across London, spanning successive days. PM2.5 and other types of harmful particulate mater spiked across the capital, leading to the worse air quality measurements in over half a decade. Further analysis found the main contributor was solid fuel to heat homes. This backed up warnings last year that the cost of energy crisis would have a direct impact on air pollution unless there was significant support for the most economically vulnerable.

At the time of writing, Coffey has ruled out a ban on wood burning stoves in favour of tighter regulations around their use, especially in Smoke Control Areas. In 2021, Air Quality News revealed that across London no fines had been issued any council relating to the use of such stoves, even though the majority of the city falls under legislation designed to control smoke. 

‘The Environmental Improvement Plan sets out the government’s approach to delivering our long-term environmental targets and wider green commitments.  However, it’s important to consider the EIP in the context of environmental targets that lacked ambition in the first place,’ said Sarah Mukherjee MBE, CEO of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA).

‘The goal must be for us to exceed the current targets for air quality, biodiversity, water and resource efficiency and to do it more rapidly.  The future of our natural environment demands this,’ she continued. ‘Achieving the objectives in the EIP will require a whole economy approach to delivery, as well as action across the whole of government.  It’s disappointing that the implementation of the Policy Statement on Environmental Principles, consulted on in the summer of 2021, will not be embedded into the design and development of new policy across Government until November 2023.’

Image: (C) Alexander Tsang


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1 year ago
  • In the UK, responsibility for meeting air quality limit values is devolved to the national administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has responsibility for meeting the limit values in England and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) co-ordinates assessment and air quality plans for the UK as a whole’ . Good – that’s clear then – but it seems to me the BEIS is also involved in UK air quality/pollution levels? For example: Clean Growth Strategy – GOV.UK ( paper. Clean Growth Strategy. An ambitious blueprint for Britain’s low carbon future. BEIS. And: Air Quality and Climate Change | LAQM ( Outcome Delivery Plan: 2021 to 2022 – GOV.UK ( and Air Quality Targets in the Environment Act – Defra, Is everyhone involved then? I see the Climate Change Adaptation Policy Information page (at says “Defra is the lead department for domestic climate adaptation, but actions and policies are implemented across government. Adaptation is also embedded in other key government commitments such as the 25 Year Environment Plan“. I would imagine that includes air quality? Next I looked here: Ambitious roadmap for a cleaner, greener country (also It says: “Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said: Our Environmental Improvement Plan sets out how we will continue to improve our environment here in the UK and around the world. Nature is vital for our survival, crucial to our food security, clean air, and clean water as well as health and well-being benefits”. Sounds great – but I’m still not clear who is in charge of the air polluiton problems. The page continues: “Air: Challenging councils to improve air quality more quickly by assessing their performance and use of existing powers, while supporting them with clear guidance, funding, and tools. Reducing ammonia emissions through incentives in our new farming schemes, while considering expanding environmental permitting condition to dairy and intensive beef farms. Improving the way air quality information is communicated to the public”.and “The environmental principles policy statement …… means that, from 1 November 2023, environmental protection and enhancement will be embedded into the design and development of new policy across Government”. So, I presume both Defra and the BEIS will get involved then? I note the words “challenging councils” – really? and “supporting them with clear guidance, funding and tools”. Sounds very positive. But didn’t we just hear there is to be NO extra funding for air pollution issues now? Let’s hope the Government has already set aside enough. I’d like to know how our local authorities are to be empowered to stop, or simply reduce, local air pollution. Where can I find out? This is like drowning in words.
Mike Hinford
Mike Hinford
1 year ago

Thanks for reporting on this important issue, and especially mentioning wood burning.

1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Hinford

Yes, the wood smoke pollution is dire in many of our streets now and the government’s lack of ambition at cleaning up the air is very disappointimg to say the least. With all the goodwill in the world, there’s not a lot our local authorities can do because it is not always evident where the smoke is coming from, especially after dark. Until there is proper local air quality monotoring, we are stuck.Someone inside their warm cosy home with their warm cosy stove may have no idea about the unhealthy air their chimney is emptying over their neighbours. Or else they think it is acceptable? Just like the old coal smoke that some of us grew up with. It takes time to change traditions but many more of us will come down with smoke-related illnesses because of the wood smoke, I fear.What I fail to understand is why the UK governemnt’s responsibility for air quality comes under the Ministry of Environment and that comes under the BEIS – alogn with Climate Change. Why do we not have a completely separate Secretary/Ministry for Pollution/Climate, or at least put it under Health. Have I ot this straight, does anyone here know, please?

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