Over four fifths of UK adults think it is important to tackle air pollution in the UK. The UK’s first ever National Clean Air Day has since demonstrated the huge level of public willingness to take personal action to reduce air pollution and protect their health. And people are also prepared to put their money where their mouth is. Two thirds of people polled would be happy to pay for a ring-fenced fund to tackle air pollution, equivalent to £1 billion a year. People are now asking their leaders for the infrastructure and policy environment to support them and enable us all to breathe clean air.
The success of National Clean Air Day on June 15th 2017 demonstrates the public appetite for action on tackling air pollution. 28 thousand tweets, 550 media articles and over 200 grassroots events helped raise public awareness about the health impacts of air pollution and how to reduce and avoid air pollution. For the first time-ever, health-professional backed advice reached over 46 million people in the UK through the media, social media and public engagement events. The level of public interest in clean air peaked when #NationalCleanAirDay trended at number one on Twitter for five hours, showing that air pollution was more popular than Beer Day and Love Island.
June 15th 2017 started with school children across the country walking and cycling to school, instead of being driven: Levels of lateness at a primary school in Nottingham were markedly down on National Clean Air Day, as children set their alarms extra early to make sure they could walk to school in time for a celebratory cup of squash and to receive a certificate; children at St John’s School in Southampton celebrated cleaner air by cycling and playing in the street that had been closed outside their school.
As the day progressed, workplaces encouraged staff to leave the car at home and walk or cycle: Colmore Business District in Birmingham asked its 30,000 employees to make a pledge to support clean air and consider how packages are delivered; a lunchtime event to inspire businesses and professionals across Manchester attracted speakers from City of Trees, Transport for Greater Manchester and the British Lung Foundation.
Residents in Nottingham and Derby learnt about what they could do to protect their health from air pollution through public engagement events in the Intu shopping centres, while grass-covered furniture and cars full of flowers helped stop shoppers and workers in Leeds who then pledged to take action to reduce air pollution. These and hundreds more events took place in the Clean Air Zone cities and across England.
National Clean Air Day also triggered city mayors, council leaders and councillors from across the parties to get involved and pledge their support for cleaner air.
The seventy groups supporting National Clean Air Day – including Public Health England, the British Lung Foundation and King’s College London – have helped people across the country to understand why and how they can reduce air pollution and protect their health. From teachers to taxi drivers and nurses to builders, people are concerned and want action to cut air pollution. In polling, just under nine in ten people thought that new vehicle standards to reduce pollution from diesel cars should be brought in before 2020. In focus groups, taxi drivers told us how they feel the group most exposed to air pollution as they sit in toxic cabs with pollution pumping in from the cars in front. People know their health is being compromised and are primed to take action on air pollution. They are now ready to discuss with policy and decision makers how to improve the air quality in their local areas. The public want clean air.
A full report about National Clean Air Day will be published in September 2017.
For more information: www.cleanairday.org.uk
Larissa Lockwood is the Head of Health and Air Quality at Global Action Plan