Thu 24 May 2018
Michael Gove at Imperial College London’s Data Science Institute, where he launched the government’s clean air strategy. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
You write that “the main contributor to the air quality crisis … is road transport” (Editorial, 23 May). Road transport contributes 34% of nitrogen dioxide emissions and 12% of particulate matter emissions. The majority of air pollution comes from other sources. In particular, domestic burning contributes 38% of primary particulate matter – the most damaging pollutant to human health, according to the World Health Organisation.
You write that our clean air strategy “purported to tackle a public health crisis by getting families to open their windows more often because ‘air pollution inside the home can often be higher than outside’.” Those 11 words are taken from almost 40,000 in the document, which sets out action on domestic fuel, farming, ports, aviation and in other areas.
You write that we have “strangely little to say” on emissions from road transport. Last July, I published the 250-page UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations. We are spending £3.5bn implementing it.
You write that our plan “envisages local authorities finding the cash”. We are giving local authorities hundreds of millions of pounds, including £255m for local air quality plans, £220m in the clean air fund to support individuals and businesses, and £14m via the air quality grant.
You write that we are only acting because of “an EU air quality law”. We are going much further than EU law requires, in setting a goal that, by 2025, we will halve the number of people living in locations where concentrations of particulate matter are above the WHO guideline of 10 micrograms per cubic metre. We are the first major developed economy to set goals based on WHO advice.
You write that as education secretary I was responsible for “repressing teaching on climate change”. In fact we planned to enhance climate change teaching through its inclusion in a more rigorous science curriculum.
You write that the UK is “acting illegally under EU laws”, yet do not mention the 22 other EU member states also breaking those laws. You do not mention the main reasons nitrogen dioxide limits are being breached – the surge in diesel encouraged by the last Labour government, the failure of the EU’s emissions testing regime, and the dishonesty of some car manufacturers in manipulating that regime.
You write that the government should provide cash to help people to move away from using cars, develop greener public transport and embrace electric vehicles. We are spending £1.2bn on cycling and walking, £245m on low-emission buses, and £1.5bn on zero- and ultra-low emission cars. We committed to phasing out diesel and petrol cars by 2040 – more ambitious than almost every other EU member state.
You write that the government should allow local authorities to charge motorists. Not only do local authorities already have this power, government is requiring them to bring air pollution within legal limits in the shortest time possible.
You accuse me of “ditching the facts”, but that is exactly what you have done. You present a misleading picture both of the major air pollution problem we face and the government’s actions to address it.
In asserting roadside emissions matter above all others, you have opted for “the kind of simplistic commonsense answer” of which you accuse others. Research tells us that only 3% of people asked selected the burning of wood and coal in homes as the principal cause of poor air quality, so it is critical that we improve public awareness about this major public health issue.
Michael Gove MP