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Clean air is good for your mind as well as your body, says charity

Deniz Huseyin
15 June 2023


Today - 15 June - marks the UK’s seventh annual Clean Air Day, coordinated by Global Action Plan. The environmental charity hopes that Clean Air Day will help to:

  • improve public understanding of air pollution
  • build awareness of how air pollution affects our health 
  • explain some of the easy things we can all do to tackle air pollution to help protect our health and the environment 

Global Action Plan says that cleaning up our air not only benefits physical health and the environment but can also protect mental and brain health. The physical health impacts of air pollution – such as asthma, heart disease and cancers – have been recognised for decades, said the charity. “More recently, researchers are beginning to understand how air pollution can affect the brain and the mind.”

The charity has developed a range of resources offering customised guidance to: local authorities, campaign and community groups; businesses; schools: healthcare professionals; and individuals.

Global Action Plan says the key tenets of the day are:

  • Learn: find out more about how air pollution impacts our mental, physical and planet’s health. 
  • Act: walk, wheel or use public transport to reduce your exposure and contribution to air pollution. If you drive, try leaving the car behind on Clean Air Day and one day every week. 
  • Ask: get in touch with your local councillor to ask them to support clean air measures that make it easier for you to breathe clean air.  

Clean Air Day will help focus attention on the urgent need to tackle poor quality in the capital, said Philip Glanville, London Councils’ executive member for climate change, transport and environment.

He pointed to the decision by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan earlier this week to trigger a high pollution alert warning, based  on Imperial College data.

This revealed that pollution levels were particularly dangerous for more vulnerable residents, said Glanville, who is also Hackney's elected mayor.  

He told LTT: “This chronic poor air quality impacts London’s communities and urgent action is needed to reduce harmful emissions across the capital. Annually around 4,000 deaths in London are estimated to be attributable to air pollution. 

“Not only this, but communities with higher levels of deprivation are more likely to be exposed to greater levels of air pollution, usually a result of higher traffic or industrial activities in these areas. We cannot overstate the necessity of a just and fair transition to net zero that protects disadvantaged groups from poor quality air and those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.” 

London boroughs are taking action to reduce carbon emissions and clean up the capital’s air through collaborative cross-borough climate programmes, said Glanville. “We are targeting carbon emissions from motor vehicles through extensive investment in London’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure and active travel initiatives. As of the end of March 2023, London boroughs have delivered over 11,000 chargepoints representing over 80% of public chargepoints available to Londoners. This is a more than 50% increase on the number of chargepoints that were available at the same time last year. 

“Our low carbon transport programme is aiming to halve road journeys made by petrol and diesel, working with our communities and businesses to find ways to reduce polluting journeys and implementing and encouraging people to use active travel options.”  

London Councils is also working to increase the delivery of low carbon buildings and infrastructure through borough planning powers and securing greater green investment to support skills and green jobs that will empower local areas to innovate, decarbonise and deliver cleaner air for all Londoners, Glanville pointed out. 

“But even with all these commitments, it still won’t be enough to properly address air pollution in London. Local government needs more powers in order to tackle air quality challenges within our own communities and bring about change that is effective and long lasting. We have also consistently asked the Government to adopt more stringent targets, including bringing the new WHO interim target from 2040 to 2030.  

“London boroughs have long been calling for simplification of the net zero funding landscape, which would help to address elements of the air pollution challenge. We stand ready to work with government to collaborate on an effective way to fund local net zero action at a fast pace. Local authorities also need a guarantee that the amount of funding available will be enough to sufficiently take on the challenge of making our capital’s air safe enough to breathe, and to do so quickly.”

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