Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s determination to bash farmers for ammonia emissions, while ignoring air pollution from road transport, shows the Government is not serious about clean air, argues Green MEP Molly Scott Cato.
Emissions from farming feature heavily in the Government’s new draft Clean Air Strategy. In particular, the Government wants farmers to reduce ammonia emissions, as the agriculture sector accounts for around 88 per cent of these emissions.
This focus is likely to create a bit of a stink among the farming community, especially since the Tories have previously resisted attempts in the EU to set tough targets on emissions from agriculture.
In 2015, Defra specifically called on MEPs to vote against targets for farming emissions cuts, in defiance of its own experts’ advice.
Given this record, it is astonishing that Gove claims the ‘goals the Government has set are even more ambitious than EU requirements’. This is patently absurd.
For four decades, the real muscle when it comes to environmental protection has always been shown by the EU, and often in opposition to our own Government.
Evidence of this came just last week when the UK was referred to the European Court of Justice for, you guessed it, breaching EU air pollution limits.
Certainly, we must not underplay the significance of ammonia emissions in the cocktail of air pollutants.
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, and in the form of fertiliser, contributes significantly to levels of nitrogen in the air.
As a Green, this certainly concerns me, as does the high use of artificial ammonia fertilisers which account for almost a quarter of ammonia emissions.
However, as so often, there appears to be no additional funding to help farmers clean up their act.
The strategy acknowledges there will be a cost, but that farmers will be expected ‘to make investments in the farm infrastructure and equipment that will reduce emissions’.
Perhaps what is most breath-taking about the Government’s strategy, and likely to annoy farmers the most, is the fact that road transport, by far the greatest cause of air pollution-related deaths and health problems, receives just three paragraphs in the consultation, while ammonia receives six pages.
Perhaps that is exactly the point. The UK will soon be outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and environmental protection could become the domain of a completely toothless environment watchdog.
So the Government can look as if it is serious about tackling air pollution while really just biding its time.