Environment secretary Michael Gove has launched a new 'world leading plan' to tackle air pollution.

The ambitious new strategy to clean up our air and save lives cites air pollution as one of the biggest threats to public health in the UK, behind only cancer, obesity and heart disease.

The proposed Clean Air Strategy will cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.

The long-term target is to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter (PM), which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified as the most damaging pollutant, with a commitment to halve the number of people living in areas breaching WHO guidelines by 2025.

The plan proposes to introduce new legislation to prohibit the sale of the most polluting fuels, introducing regulations to require farmers to use low emission farming techniques and bring existing smoke control legislation up to date, making it easier to enforce.

The UK is also going further than most European nations by tackling emissions from cars, with a commitment to end the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040.

Michael Gove said of the new strategy:

“The evidence is clear. While air quality has improved significantly in recent years, air pollution continues to shorten lives, harm our children and reduce quality of life.

“We must take strong, urgent action. Our ambitious strategy includes new targets, new powers for local government and confirms that our forthcoming Environment Bill will include new primary legislation on air quality.”