Air pollution: Let’s allow our cities to breathe

air pollution

A new global initiative to save lives, improve health, and reduce air pollution that is both harmful to public health and the climate launched this week.

Breathe Cities will help boost clean air projects such as London mayor Sadiq Khan’s forthcoming expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), The ULEZ has already lowered harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations by 21 per cent lower in inner London and 46 per cent in central London. Since the ULEZ was launched four years ago it has led to a reduction of around 800,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from vehicles across London – showing how air quality and carbon reduction are linked issues.

Air pollution associated with 7m deaths every year

Almost no urban area has air quality that meets the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO). 41 per cent of cities have air pollution over 7 times higher than WHO’s recommendation, meaning their residents are breathing dangerously polluted air that can cause a suite of health issues such as asthma and respiratory illnesses.

Air pollution is also associated with 7 million premature deaths each year. And worldwide, air pollution costs the global economy $8.1 trillion, the equivalent of 6.1% of global GDP. Residents who live in cities where density, geography, and pollution from transportation and industry pose unique daily hazards live face to face with this reality.

As Chair of C40 Cities, I am committed to working collaboratively across national borders and city boundaries to tackle air pollution and address the climate crisis,” said Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London and Chair of C40 Cities.

Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis in many of our cities – leading to premature death and chronic disease. Countries in the Global South – which have contributed the least to climate change throughout history – are most severely affected, bearing the brunt of climate chaos. In my own city, to help drive down emissions, we are expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone London-wide, meaning five million more Londoners can breathe cleaner air.

air pollution road danger

Children are disproportionately affected by polluted air

ULEZ expansion

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak is resisting urges to endorse the forthcoming expansion of London’s ULEZ. It is the third major letter in less than a month calling on Mr Sunak to support the clean air initiative.

Seven major environmental groups Greenpeace, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and the think tank Green Alliance have written to Rishi Sunak, urging him to support the expansion of London’s Ultra low emission zone (Ulez). The letter comes only weeks after after 36 scientists and 200 doctors wrote to the PM asking the same thing.

Illegal levels of the poisonous gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are present across 14 areas of London according to a new study from City Hall. Levels of the toxin also broke limits set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Harlesden High Street in Brent topped the list of NO2 hotspots with three times the legal limit, but the study reveals similar levels of air pollution in both inner and outer London. The findings support the case for lower speed limits and expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) – due at the end of August.

Commenting on the air pollution study, London mayor, Sadiq Khan, said: “This data is yet more shocking proof that London’s air quality has been in serious breach of the recognised global standard – and it’s a problem in every single part of the capital.”

Not just walkers and cyclists – air pollution affects us all

Poisoned air affects us all, however we travel.  Air pollution in British cities can damage our health from before we are born, dog us throughout our lives, and for over 40,000 of us every year, kill us.

Greenpeace air pollution filter

As children we’re exposed to air pollution on the school run and while in the playground. When Unicef UK equipped six school children in London with personal air monitors to record exposure to soot particles, they  found that while the kids spent around 7 per cent of the day travelling, they experienced 15 per cent of their daily exposure to the pollutant while on their journeys.

As part of our film about road danger, Stop Killing our Children, we spoke to Professor Stephen Holgate who is Medical Research Council Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology and Honorary Consultant Physician within Medicine at the University of Southampton:

We know that here in the United Kingdom, for example, we have the highest prevalence of asthma in Europe and one of the major drivers of that of course is exposure to air pollution. The other thing that we understand more recently especially is that some of the pollutants get into the circulation and start increasing the risk of diabetes for example, which we know is going up in this country at the moment, and also impaired cognition – learning and the ability to acquire knowledge from schooling and teaching.

The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance , breakdown cover  and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.

RadRunner e-bike prize


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