Caroline Watson, partner at environmental behavioural change charity Global Action Plan, explains the need for a ‘multi-pronged’ approach to tackling air pollution
Ahead of the Supreme Court judgement and General Election, Caroline Watson, partner at environmental behavioural change charity Global Action Plan, explains the need for a ‘multi-pronged’ approach to tackling air pollution.
This Wednesday (April 29) the Supreme Court is set to rule on a case, brought by ClientEarth, that could force the government to institute drastic measures to combat the UK’s illegal levels of air pollution. The case is a lively reminder that air quality is no longer solely an environmental issue. It is a matter of public health of national, and indeed international, significance.
Emerging economies, such as India and China, understand that tackling poor air quality will not only lead to a more sustainable planet, but a healthier, safer and more productive population. The UK is lagging behind in this. We haven’t seen any stringent clean air legislation since the Clean Air Act of 1993.
Air pollution currently accounts for at least 4,000 premature deaths in London alone, and efforts to reduce this have so far proved ineffective, there clearly is no panacea to reducing its deadly impact but something must be done. What we need is a multi-faceted approach that utilises ambitious and imaginative legislation to reduce pollution alongside a wholesale shift in our attitudes to how we approach poor air quality.
As part of this, the government should spearhead the creation of local clean air zones with lower speed limits, traffic restrictions and better public transport links that would reduce traffic and associated pollution. In addition punitive measures announced by the Mayor of London and, most recently, Westminster borough council, to fine those motorists who contribute most to the problem. There are imaginative and effective projects underway that if scaled up could have a large impact. In London, Barts Health NHS Health Trust is using the reach and influence of the health sector to work with both patients and the wider community to reduce emissions and exposure to air pollution.
We haven’t seen any stringent clean air legislation since the Clean Air Act of 1993.
Further efforts should also be made to educate businesses, pedestrians and motorists on the impact their choices have on air quality. The City of London are one such municipality who are leading on this agenda, supporting Cleaner Air Action Days to engage motorists and help them make small changes to their behaviour that can cumulatively have a huge impact.
Part of this initiative is to simply bust the myths that surround air quality and engine idling. Turning off an engine and restarting it after a minute or longer actually causes less pollution than keeping the engine idling and uses less fuel. In other words, it is better for the driver and vehicle, better for the environment, and better for the surrounding population. Similarly, advances in vehicle technology mean that turning the engine on and off no longer has any detrimental impact. In fact, idling dirties an engine with incomplete combustion causing wear and tear. Again, switching off the engine is better for the car engine, better for your wallet and better for everyone’s health as well as for the environment.
Ultimately, national politicians can continue to bluster and puff about air pollution over the course of the election, or they can help spread such practical and positive initiatives across the capital and the UK. Only then will we see real progress on tackling the deadly impact of poor air quality and reducing the disgrace that leads to thousands of people dying prematurely each and every year.