Air pollution in cities fell over the course of the first national lockdown but now meets or exceeds pre-pandemic levels in 80% of the places studied in recent research, according to the Centre for Cities which conducted the research with CREA.
It has called for the acceleration of charging Clean Air Zones. “Those cities that have cancelled them should reverse their decisions, and those that have not brought proposals to consultation, despite poor air quality caused by traffic, should do so, ” it said.
The organisation has said that the pandemic has pushed air quality concerns down the agenda as national and local policymakers ‘grapple’ with immediate healthcare and economic impacts. Important measures like Clean Air Zones (CAZs) have lost what priority they had, sometimes on the grounds that air quality has improved this year as a by-product of restrictions to control the spread of the virus, the Cewntre for Cities said.
Its research has showed that although in cities and large towns like Glasgow, Warrington and Oxford, NO2 concentration levels more than halved during lockdown, not all cities and large towns experienced a significant improvement in air quality.
“When restrictions were lifted, air pollution returned to its pre-pandemic levels in 39 of 49 cities and large towns studied, even though none had returned to previous levels of economic activity, according to the research.
“While many cities and large towns felt the benefit of a short-term reduction in air pollution, the long-term impact of the pandemic may be to make pollution worse as changed behaviour becomes entrenched even as economic activity is restored,” said the organisation.
According to the work, there are four main implications for policy that this analysis illustrates:
1. The pandemic does not lessen the need for action on air quality
2. Greater home working is not the answer to cleaner air
3. Policy needs to disincentivise car and other vehicle usage to improve air quality
4. Reducing car usage does not affect all pollutants equally
Research shows it causes 40,000 deaths a year. And a recent study suggested that 15 per cent of Covid deaths could be attributed to air pollution, through its harmful impact on cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. To reduce deaths in the future, the following needs to happen:
The Centre for Cities recommendations include: encouraging people to reeturn to and swap to, public transport once the pandemic is under control, evaluate temporary active travel measures introduced during the pandemic and implement them if shown to be effective and for all areas to adopt the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for PM2.5 in the Enviornment Bill.