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Environment

UK Makes Last-Ditch Effort to Avoid Steep Air Pollution Fines

Less than a week after being threatened with fines and legal action by the European Union, the United Kingdom came out with a new plan Tuesday for reducing air pollution throughout the country, according to Reuters.

The new plan has multiple facets, some of which will be fleshed out in the months ahead.

First, the country will work to reduce the number of people living in cities with high levels of air pollution, according to the Independent.

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Next, the plan focuses on fuels and stoves used for household heat. The government claims that up to 40% of the most harmful types of particulate matter come from wood burners and open-air fires, the Independent reports. To limit this pollution, local authorities will be allowed to declare “no burn” days and places where burning is off-limits, and inefficient stoves and fuels will be phased out.

The government is also tackling ammonia pollution by requiring farmers to buy efficient equipment, according to Reuters.

Taken together, the UK government expects these measures to save the country $1.34 billion each year in pollution costs, ranging from health consequences to polluted waterways. The health effects of breathing contaminated air currently costs the country £20bn a year, according to the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Read More: These Are the Most Polluted Places in the UK

"I don't imagine many people will be aware of the way in which wood burning or the way in which agricultural pollution contributes to material in the air, which doesn't just cause health problems, but limits life expectancy,” environment secretary Michael Gove said in a statement.

Critics argue that the plan still fails to meaningfully reduce pollution from transportation, and this oversight could ultimately cause the UK to be fined millions by the European Commission of Justice (ECJ), according to the Guardian.

In fact, the the government’s previous air pollution plan focused on transportation, and it was ruled inadequate by a court in February after the environmental nonprofit ClientEarth brought a lawsuit against it.

“While the government’s focus on air quality from different sources is welcome, road transport is still the main source of illegal air pollution in our towns and cities,” ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said in a statement published Tuesday. “We need a national network of clean air zones to take the most polluting vehicles out of the most polluted areas.

“We also want the government to commit to a new Clean Air Act fit for the 21st century,” he added. “Ministers should enshrine people’s right to breathe clean air in UK law and drive greater ambition to protect their health.”

Read More: India Has the World’s 14 Most Polluted Cities, New Report Shows

Creating "clean air zones," where cars are temporarily banned, is the most effective way to reduce air pollution, according to the UK government’s own research. The government’s previous plan encouraged local governments to adopt CAZs but came short of mandating them.

The ECJ is expected to hear a case against the UK later this year for being in violation of the EU’s air quality standards. Five other countries face similar lawsuits — France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Romania.

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals, which call on countries to pursue clean air quality. You can take action on this issue here.