Thank you for contacting me about domestic coal burning.
Scottish Labour believes we need to see robust action from the government on air pollution and emissions from all sources, including domestic combustion. The SNP talk about their ambitious climate targets but they need to start matching their rhetoric with actions. Addressing the issue of domestic coal burning is the right thing to do for the environment, and for public health.
The government’s recent Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 document, published in July 2021, emphasised the need for greater focus on non-transport emission sources, including domestic combustion and agriculture. The majority of the key recommendations from the first Cleaner Air for Scotland document, published in 2015, had focused on pollution caused by transport.
In Scotland the legislation which regulates the use of burning of coal in a domestic setting is derived from the Clean Air Act 1993. The rules on burning wet wood and house coal changed in England on May 1, 2021 as the Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020, part of the Clean Air strategy, came into effect. Under the new regulations, the sale of wet wood will be phased out in 2022 and the sale of house coal will be phased out in 2023.
Some of the areas of the UK most reliant on the burning of coal are in Scotland. According to IPPR research published in 2018, the Scottish Highlands uses three times as much coal as the Greater London Area. Domestic burning in the home is the largest single contributor to PM2.5, which has been identified by the World Health Organisation as the most serious air pollutant for human health.
In Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 the Scottish Government committed to a number of actions around domestic combustion. These include encouraging the uptake of Ecodesign stoves, measures to control the supply of the most polluting domestic fuels, working with business and industry to develop educational schemes, working with local government and SEPA to consider revisions to current regulations, and gathering greater evidence about pollutants attributable to domestic burning. Scottish Labour supports these measures, which are important for bringing our legislation on domestic fuel burning into line with best practice, reducing exposure to health risks caused by pollutants, and meeting our climate obligations.
As part of Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 the Scottish Government committed to “Take forward, working with businesses that may be affected and other interested parties, potential measures to control the supply of the most polluting domestic fuels – including a ban on house coal, restricting the sulphur content of smokeless fuels to 2%, prohibiting the sale of certain types of wet wood and introduction of a minimum renewables content for manufactured smokeless fuels. In taking forward this work, we are mindful that any new measures would require to be implemented over a period of time, such as a transitional period during which businesses could adapt to the new requirements without disproportionate costs”
The Government also committed to “Commission work to provide further evidence on the proportion of PM emissions and other key pollutants attributable to domestic burning in Scotland, together with geographic and demographic distribution of domestic burning.” This will be important if businesses and individuals, particularly in the most affected areas, are to be effectively supported during any change in regulations.
I am clear that the measures the government has committed to should be implemented as soon as practically possible. We are already falling behind other parts of the UK. The future actions outlined are welcome, but we need to see some real action from the Government if we are to improve public health and tackle the climate emergency. My Scottish Labour colleagues and I will hold the government to account over the delivery of these actions, and ensure that there is no downgrading of the actions or ambitions outlined within Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 on domestic combustion.