We need a clean air healthy recovery

Zak from our policy team explains how COVID has changed our thinking about clean air. And why it’s more important than ever we tackle air pollution by enforcing stronger limits in the Environment Bill.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for us all, leading to dramatic changes in how we live our lives. But one unexpected benefit has been the sharp decline in some air pollutants across the world, due in part to significant drops in transport use. We recently surveyed 14,000 people with a lung condition and found 1 in 6 noticed an improvement in their symptoms. 

It’s been refreshing to see how throughout the coronavirus crisis, public health has been the key driver of government policy. As we begin to recover, it’s vital that public health remains central to how the government thinks and acts. 

The government must recognise we all need to protect our lungs in the long term, as well as avoiding further waves of COVID-19. We need to make sure people recovering from COVID-19 and people with lung conditions have clean air to breathe, both during and after the pandemic. 

We need to strongly prioritise walking and cycling 

The transport secretary’s announcement of funding in towns and cities to promote walking and cycling was great news. It is crucial local authorities put these changes in place quickly and effectively. A rapid shift to walking and cycling is the right thing to do for clean air, and it will help avoid gridlock traffic.

It’s also important that public transport gets back up and running safely at as high capacity as possible, as soon as possible. This will help reduce the number of cars polluting our roads.

Some progress has been halted 

Unfortunately, all existing Clean Air Zone (CAZ) proposals have been delayed until 2021 at the earliest, with Manchester in particular delayed until 2022. London’s ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) shows us these can be effective.  

While it was right for local councils to prioritise the emergency pandemic response, it’s important we don’t see further delays in putting in place CAZs, as this would compromise the health of the population. 

The virus has also slowed down the passage of the Environment Bill, a key piece of legislation that commits the government to setting a new target for fine particulate matter. Parliamentary scrutiny of this bill must start up again soon. The most recent draft of the bill doesn’t give the ambitious target we need as we recover from COVID-19. Instead, it allows the government to wait until 2022 to set a target and doesn’t state what the target should be. 

The government must urgently commit to – at the very least – reaching the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline levels for PM2.5, by 2030 at the latest. 

Time for action for a healthy recovery  

COVID-19 has shown how important it is for the nation to have resilient lungs.  People in cities, towns and villages across the country must all be given the space to safely walk and cycle. 

Those in the most polluted towns and cities need to be incentivised to leave their car at home through charging Clean Air Zones. These changes have the potential to positively change our relationship with the places in which we live, work and play. 

We have a collective obligation, and the government a moral duty, to learn from this moment and ensure that we come out the other side of this public health crisis with healthier spaces that allow our lungs to thrive. 

Read the full version of this blog at airqualitynews.com


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9 July 2020