Air quality tends to be worse in cities than elsewhere in the country and is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, causing an estimated 40,000 deaths each year. Our research reveals that 40 UK cities and towns are at or exceed World Health Organisation air pollution limits and more than one in 19 deaths in these places are related to long-term exposure to just one type of toxic pollutant: PM2.5.
Transport is a significant, but not sole contributor to air pollution. Burning fuels is also a major cause. For example, half of deadly PM2.5 toxins generated in cities and large towns come from sources such as wood burning stoves and coal fires. The levels of this toxic pollutant break World Health Organization guidelines and yet are currently legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There is a clear south / north divide to air pollution. Cities in the Greater South East have higher levels of pollution and higher concentrations of deadly PM2.5. For example, in London, Slough and Luton, PM2.5 cases an estimated one in 16 deaths. Conversely, cities in Scotland and northern England see the smallest proportion of PM2.5-related deaths. Aberdeen is the city with the lowest proportion – one in 33 deaths are estimated to be caused by the pollutant.
Although in cities and large towns like Glasgow, Warrington and Oxford, NO2 concentration levels more than halved during the first lockdown, not all cities and large towns experienced a significant improvement in air quality.
Our research revealed that improvements were short-lived, as when restrictions were lifted air pollution returned to its pre-pandemic levels in 39 out of 40 cities and large towns studied.
Back in January, the Government pushed back the Environment Bill for at least another six months, delaying decisions fundamental to improving air quality and to bringing air pollution targets in line with World Health Organization guidelines. We believe the Environment Bill must return to Parliament as soon as possible and be much tougher in its approach to tackling air pollution in UK cities.
The pandemic has pushed air quality concerns down the national agenda, with policymakers prioritising the immediate healthcare and economic impacts of Covid-19. As restrictions lift and the UK begins to emerge from the pandemic, urgent action must be taken to address air pollution once again.
Steps to tackle air pollution in UK cities include:
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As the first Labour Mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Nik Johnson should focus on reducing inequalities in the combined authority ensuring everyone can benefit from the growth in the area.
Last week, voters in the West of England elected Dan Norris as their metro mayor. Researcher Guilherme Rodrigues takes a closer look at what the mayor will have to do to raise public awareness of his role and support the city-region in its future growth.
For the eight metro mayors, winning the election is only the beginning – their real task is to make their cities better, more prosperous places to live.
Our latest briefing shows that the Core Cities' city centres have been particularly affected by Covid-19. Policies aimed to kickstart an economic recovery should focus on getting centres working again, in terms of public transport and air quality, commercial property, and investment in skills.
This briefing examines the economic impact of Covid-19 from the first national lockdown to understand how the 11 Core Cities are likely to be affected by continuing restrictions and what the shape of their recovery might look like.
City leaders should be at the forefront of our switch to greener vehicles.
The Environment Bill's delay pushes air quality further down the Government's agenda, seriously impeding our prioritisation of environmental issues and building a green recovery.
Air pollution in cities fell over the course of the first national lockdown, but now meets or exceeds pre-pandemic levels in 80 per cent of places studied.
Valentine Quinio and Hubert Thieriot on the fall and rise of air pollution in 2020.
As life returns to normal councils must act to stop air pollution returning to pre-pandemic levels.