Air pollution in Scotland damages our health and causes over 2500 early deaths every year.
We are calling for urgent action. Traffic is the main cause of air pollution, so our campaign is working to shift the balance of local and national transport policy and budget towards public transport, cycling and walking.
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In our urban centres, traffic is the dominant cause of air pollution. It is responsible for 80% of Nitrogen Dioxide pollution. In the video below air pollution campaigner Alice O'Rourke cycled through Glasgow's busy streets at rush hour and measured levels of toxic pollution with a monitor strapped to her back. The results are startling and show elevated levels of pollution where Alice was caught in traffic.
Air pollution levels are so high they are breaking safety standards and damaging health in many parts of Scotland.
The worst affected areas are urban areas including Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, but 14 Councils have pollution problems.
There are a total of 38 declared Pollution Zones across the country. Pollution Zones are streets or areas where Councils have declared that levels of air pollution are breaking safety standards which have been set under the Scottish Air Quality Regulations and which are based on World Health Organisation Guidance.
Click here to find out whether you live or work in a Pollution Zone.
Air pollution is Scotland's single biggest environmental health threat. It can weaken the heart and lungs and damage the cardio-respiratory system, reducing life expectancy and in some instances causing death. Across Scotland, over 2,500 people die early every year from air pollution - that's ten times more people than die in road crashes.
When there is an air pollution “spike” or “episode”, asthmatics have a higher risk of an attack. But even exposure to pollution levels which are lower than the regulatory limits are still damaging to health if it persists over a long period. Regular exposure to the levels of pollution that we see day in, day out on city streets in Scotland increases the risk of people with heart conditions having a heart attack or stroke. Worryingly, air pollution impacts on foetal development, with newborn babies more likely to have lower birth weights if expecting mothers are exposed to air pollution throughout pregnancy.
Most of our air pollution comes from traffic: fumes pumped out by cars, lorries, and buses contain toxic gases and particles which can damage health.
So the Government and local councils must reduce traffic volumes and improve vehicle emissions standards to save lives and protect health. They must:
(1) Introduce a network of Low Emission Zones in Scottish Cities: Low Emission Zones are areas in city centres where the most polluting vehicles are banned or must pay a fine if they enter. They have been shown to reduce pollution in many European cities but as yet there are none in Scotland. The Scottish Government has promised to introduce Scotland's first Low Emission Zone, working with a local authority, by 2018, which is welcome news, but it now needs to commit to significant funding for the zone, and must support all major cities with pollution problems to introduce similar zones as soon as possible;
(2) Get people walking and cycling: In Copenhagen, 36% of trips are by bike; the Scottish average is under 2%, and a big barrier is that there are not enough proper cycle paths and so people don’t feel safe to cycle. The Scottish Government and local Councils must spend at least 10% of their transport budgets on active travel (at the moment, less than 2% of the national transport budget is spent on walking and cycling);
(3) Re-regulate Buses: Buses are very much part of the solution to air pollution – for every person on a bus, that is potentially one less car on the road, meaning less congestion and less pollution overall. However, the bus sector is struggling in Scotland - the number of bus journeys has dropped by 5% in the last 5 years. The Scottish Government must re-regulate the buses to give local authorities more control over bus services. Councils should be enabled to regulate fares, plan routes, and operate networks in the publis interest rather than at the whim of private companies.
(4) Enable Councils to introduce Parking Levies: The Scottish Government should introduce legislation which enables Councils to introduce Workplace Parking Levies and levies for other large car parks. This would disincentivise unnecessary trips by car, and money raised could be reinvested into public transport infrastructure.
(5) Make 20mph the default speed limit in cities: 20mph zones have been proben to make streets safer and reduce traffic, thereby improving air quality and encouraging people to walk and cycle.
Scotland continues to breach its own regulatory standards on air quality as well as binding European air quality limits in several cities. In spite of this, the Government is still investing relatively little money in improving air quality. In this year's budget, the Government will spend 200 times more money on building new roads than on tackling air pollution. Meanwhile, air pollution is estimated to cost the Scottish public purse £1.1 billion every year.
The Scottish Government introduced a plan to improve air quality, "Cleaner Air for Scotland", in 2015. That plan promises that European Union air quality laws will be met by 2020. The main way of achieving compliance will be through improving emissions standards of vehicles, for example, by introducing Low Emission Zones, rather than by reducing the volume of traffic on Scotland's roads overall. So this is a welcome step, but by no means an overall plan for clean air.
In May 2016 the Scottish Government committed to introducing Scotland's first Low Emission Zone by 2020.
However, it has yet to commit the funding to enable this to happen. The Scottish Government must now commit adequate funding to deliver Low Emission Zones in key cities, as well as committing to a date by when Scottish air quality standards will be met across the country by delivering a holistic plan to shift away from a car dominated transport system towards one where more people are afforded the opportunity to walk, cycle, and use public transport.
Since 2013, we have been campaigning for clean air by:
· Making the Government publicly accountable through strong media pressure: We publish regular data showing what the levels of air pollution are looking like in Scotland and for the past four years have released information on Scotland's most polluted streets.
· Pushing for a strong action plan to tackle air pollution: We lobbied for "Cleaner Air for Scotland" to be as strong as possible. Friends of the Earth Scotland now co-represents Scottish Environment Link on the Governance Group of Cleaner Air for Scotland to ensure that the plan is now delivered in as ambitious a way as possible. We want the plan to have funding attached to it and to make provision for Low Emission Zones by 2018 in key cities.
· Changing local transport strategies: We successfully lobbied for clean air to be included as a key objective in Edinburgh Council’s Local Transport Strategy. Glasgow Council’s City Centre Transport Strategy now talks a lot more about improving air quality, but there is room for improvement. We also continue to make representations on the implementation of these Strategies. We support introduction of 20mph zones in Edinburgh, and we object to the scrapping of all-day bus lanes in Edinburgh.
· Measuring pollution levels for ourselves: We did our own analysis of air pollution levels in Glasgow to reveal that traffic levels really do affect air pollution.
· Taking on controversial developments: In 2014-2015, together with local residents, we campaigned against a proposal for a new Waitrose supermarket on St John's Road, which would have seen developers build on a site area of 5600 and construct a 140-capacity car park on Edinburgh's most polluted stretch of road. The developers withdrew the plans in March 2015. Click here for more information.
Many of our local groups are involved in campaigning for clean air.
Contact your MSPs and local Councillors to let them know about your concerns. You can find out who they are and their contact details at https://www.writetothem.com. You may wish to say if you live or work in a Pollution Zone, and how you feel personally affected.
You can find out whether you live in a declared Pollution Zone by visiting http://www.scottishairquality.co.uk/laqm/aqma
If you are worried about how air pollution is affecting your health, then you can sign up to the Government’s “Know and Respond” service to receive alerts about when air pollution is high.
Subscribe to Friends of the Earth Scotland’s air pollution mailing list for regular campaign updates and ways to get involved.