Global Action Plan Senior Partner Caroline Watson on the Mayor of London's recent air quality initiatives

It's all about the traffic, traffic, traffic. Often it's the youngest in society who can spur us to action. At the Mayor of London's Clean Air for All Londoners event recently, I listened to primary school children from North East London sing their air pollution song (to the tune of Jessie J's it's all about the money, money, money). It is their attempt to get the adults to sit up, listen and take action to improve the filthy air these children and thousands of others are exposed to every day in cities all over the UK.

A recent report by the Royal College of Physicians attributes 40,000 deaths to outdoor air pollution every year. This doesn't factor in the devastating impact air pollution has on our quality of life. It has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia. Modelling by Kings College shows that under existing policies in the capital, we won't reach compliance within legal WHO limits for NO2 until at least 2025. This sounds incredibly scary and dis-empowering.

There are some elements of good news!

The new Mayor of London has made Air Quality one of his priorities, announcing a boost in funding to tackle air quality hot spots through a 150% increase in the money for Low Emission Neighbourhoods across eight boroughs. He also launched a consultation survey to gauge public views on air pollution in London, which closed at the end of July.

However, there is more we can and need to do. Policy implementation takes time while children and adults alike are breathing in illegal levels of air pollution. But we can all take actions every day to protect our health, and to cut our own emissions that contribute to the problem.

Working with Clean Air Better Business and Kings College, our no idling action days in London measured a statistically significant improvement in air pollution in the hot spots we targeted. Put simply - when drivers switched off their engines when stationary (instead of idling) the air quality improved.

Our everyday behaviours can make air quality better or worse. Similarly, we can change our behaviour to reduce our exposure. When we choose to avoid busy roads and walk quieter and cleaner routes, we breathe cleaner air. We trained 300 Barts Health NHS Trust staff to provide advice to patients on limiting their exposure.

Feedback from patients has been positive: “[When taking a less polluted route] I can tell the difference straight away - I can breathe!”
Patient, Tower Hamlets

We have the power to act. And if we act today we can improve the air we breathe today. That's why we are planning the first ever National Clean Air Day to help people understand how they can protect their health and how they can be part of the solution. Partners supporting the initiative include Barts Health NHS Trust, and the Royal College of Physicians. If you'd like to get involved as a contributor or partner please get in touch.