by Larissa Lockwood, Director of Clean Air
5 min read
Larissa Lockwood, Global Action Plan’s Director of Clean Air, explains how a sustained public engagement campaign will help the government get back on track after the recent NAO report reveals that the UK is failing to meet air pollution targets outlined in the government’s 2019 Clean Air Strategy.
It was heart-warming to see face-to-face events resuming this Clean Air Day, after a two-year hiatus and mostly online activities. Such events included an air pollution theatre performance, clean air festival and market, schools hosting assemblies and talking to drivers about idling, public information events in hospitals and GP surgeries, workplace cyclist breakfasts and Parliamentary events - all sharing information about air pollution and encouraging people to act to protect their health.
We are hugely appreciative to everyone who took part across the UK. Together, we have helped to improve public understanding about air pollution, something that is essential if we want to see clean air policy measures, such as Clean Air Zones, be supported by the public. This view was mirrored in the recent NAO report which found that the UK government is not on track to meet air quality targets, outlined in the government’s 2019 Clean Air Strategy.
The NAO report pinpoints the government’s failure to remain on course towards unsuccessful local communication campaigns, stating that ‘some local authorities planning to implement a Clean Air Zone or other clean air measures have faced political and public opposition’. From my perspective, this is not surprising.
Running an effective public engagement campaign is very time and resource intensive - a task which has been left to every cash-strapped local authority to develop themselves with limited central support. For the public to fully understand that air pollution in their local area is impacting their health today, people need to be shown consistent messages about air quality across different media and be provided with information from trusted messengers like health professionals and employers. It is extremely cost-inefficient to expect every local authority to develop a multi-faceted campaign themselves. A campaign model like Clean Air Day offers centralised trusted messaging and resources that can be adapted at the local level via multiple messengers, such as schools, healthcare organisations, workplaces.
As Global Action Plan has been calling for for years, and has now been echoed in the NAO report, what is required is a sustained national public engagement campaign on air pollution so we can have clean air every day. The public has the right to be informed of the likelihood that air pollution is a problem in their local area and that it can be linked to asthma-high blood pressure-stroke-dementia-cancer: illnesses that they or a loved one may be experiencing. Not only will this help people to make more informed choices to protect their own health but will also equip them to fully understand, and in turn support, local clean air measures.
Our own Clean Air Public Insights Tracker data shows levels of public concern about air pollution are highest in London where people have accepted interventions like the Ultra-Low Emission Zone; whereas in Manchester, levels of public concern about air pollution are lower which in turn has led to lesser support for clean air interventions.
Air quality targets are of course essential to hold government and polluters to account, but the public needs clear information to understand why clean air measures are so important and what the measures will mean for them and where they live.
Let’s make every day, Clean Air Day.