Concerns over air quality as new Defra statistics show significant rise in emission of PM2.5

14 February 2023, Ciaran Donaghy

CIEH has expressed its concern with the recent findings that emissions of fine particulate matter PM2.5, from domestic wood burning, have increased 124% between 2011 and 2021.

This worrying statistic was found in Defra’s ‘Emissions of air pollutants in the UK’ publication released today.

Other key findings include:

  • Emissions from fuel burning on industrial sites has increased, largely due to the combustion of biomass fuels which increased by 379 per cent between 2010 and 2021 to represent 18 per cent of total PM2.5 emissions.
  • Emissions from agriculture accounted for 87 per cent of total ammonia emissions in 2021 and this was the main contributor to the increase in emissions between 2013 and 2017.
  • The spreading of organic and inorganic fertilisers is a significant source of ammonia emissions from agriculture and is showing an upward trend (emissions from this source increased from 109 thousand tonnes in 2011 to 117 thousand tonnes in 2021).
  • Emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), Nitrous Oxide (NOx), and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), were all below domestic and international emission reduction commitment levels.

CIEH have long called for the UK Government to demonstrate greater ambition, with respect to air quality targets, urging them to go much further, much faster. For example, the 25 Year EIP cites that the government wishes to achieve a maximum Annual Mean Concentration Target (AMCT) of 10 micrograms of PM2.5 or below per cubic metre (µg/m3) by 2040, with an interim target of reaching a maximum AMCT of 12 µg/m3 of PM2.5 by the end of January 2028. This is despite evidence suggesting that the long-term target could be met by 2030 if suitable ambitious reforms were implemented.

Furthermore, in its recently published Environmental Health Manifesto, CIEH has called for greater regulation on the sale and use of domestic solid fuel burners in urban environments where there are on-grid heating alternatives. This would go a long way in tackling the worrying trend of significantly increased emissions of PM2.5 arising from domestic wood burning.

CIEH will continue to engage with policymakers to highlight our concerns in these key areas and to push for greater ambition in tackling air pollution.

Ross Matthewman, Head of Policy and Campaigns at CIEH, said:

“The publication of these statistics from Defra confirms what we at CIEH have been saying now for some time.

Not only have emissions of PM2.5 from domestic wood burning increased but have done so by 124% since 2011. This is a worrying trend that cannot continue if we are serious about protecting both the environment and public health.

Now is the time for the UK Government to regulate the sale and use of domestic solid wood burners in urban areas where there are on-grid heating alternatives. Rather than provide heating to homes, they have become middle-class status symbols which harms the quality of our air, damages the environment and threatens public health.

We hope the government takes heed of our warnings, recognises the worrying trends arising from their own departmental statistics and engages constructively with us in tackling this crucial issue.”

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