Scotland has met legal limits for air pollution for the first time since legal limits came into force in 2010, according to new analysis conducted by Friends of the Earth Scotland.
The researchers analysed air pollution data from 2020 and found that due to a decline in traffic caused by the pandemic, air pollution levels across the country dramatically improved.
The biggest improvements were found at Hope Street in Glasgow and Edinburgh’s Nicolson Street, as many car commuters worked from home for parts of 2020.
However, the research revealed that these improvements were short-lived and pollution soon returned to high, pre-pandemic levels.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Air Pollution Campaigner Gavin Thomson said: ‘It’s a huge pity that it took a deadly pandemic to bring our air quality within legal limits. Scotland’s car-choked transport system was brought to a halt in Spring, and this is why our annual averages of pollution are much lower than in previous years.
‘Any improvements in air quality in Scotland have been short-lived with traffic quickly returning to pre-pandemic levels.
‘We need to remember that pollution damages our health through long-term exposure, such as living near a main road throughout your childhood. The reduced pollution for a couple of months during the strictest lockdown is unlikely to have many long-term health benefits.
‘The health links between air pollution and Covid-19 should push us to redouble our efforts to clean up our air and protect public health. The Scottish Government’s recently published ‘Cleaner Air for Scotland’ strategy contains very few ideas for reducing polluting traffic and cleaning up our transport system. The Government and Councils must seize this moment to rethink how we plan our towns and cities, and how we move around.
‘Temporary improvements in air quality arrived at an enormous cost to our communities and societies. There was no intention or concerted political action to reduce emissions, which is why the falls were not maintained when restrictions eased. We need a just and green recovery, including investment in our public transport and more options for safe walking and cycling, to improve the air we breathe permanently.’
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