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by Matteo Barisione, Policy Assistant, European Public Health Alliance 

The Clean Air Fund has today published a new report, the results of which support calls for governments to prioritise clean air in COVID-19 recovery packages.

People are demanding change. A YouGov poll commissioned by the Clean Air Fund shows at least two-thirds of citizens in Great Britain, India, Nigeria, Poland, and Bulgaria support stricter regulation to tackle air pollution. These results follow another poll last week which showed 64% of European city-dwellers do not want a return to pre-COVID19 levels of air pollution.

91% of people are very or fairly worried about air pollution as a public health issue in Poland and Bulgaria, 71% in the United Kingdom. 93% of people are very or fairly worried about air pollution as an environmental issue in Poland and Bulgaria, 76% in the UK. Bulgarian, Polish and British citizens support stricter laws and/or enforcement of regulations on air quality, respectively 85%, 72% and 67%. More than half of the respondents in Bulgaria (61%), Poland (51%) and in Great Britain (67%) say they’ve personally noticed air quality get better since the COVID -19 outbreak began.

As lockdowns are eased and economies restarted, people around the world do not want a return to toxic levels of air pollution,and to simply replace one public health crisis for another.

In the report, the Clean Air Fund is calling for governments to:

  1. Develop and resource joint national health and environment strategies, with a specific focus on tackling air pollution.
  2. Only provide an economic stimulus to industries which make ambitious and measurable commitments to clearing the air.
  3. Support the repurposing of city streets for walking and cycling.
  4. Implement and enforce laws and regulations to build on the improvements in air quality experienced during the pandemic.
  5. Work with other governments to tackle transboundary pollution.

Air pollution, public health and post-lockdown recovery

Air pollution is a major public health issue, responsible for 7% of global deaths every year. According to the World Health Organization, more than nine in ten humans breathe air that is harmful to their health. The COVID-19 pandemic is also linked to air pollution. Decades of exposure to toxic air have worsened the health of communities globally. Millions have been left with respiratory and other health problems which leave them predisposed to the most severe impacts of COVID-19. The consequences are more hospitalisations and deaths, especially amongst the poorest and most vulnerable.

At the same time, during the lockdown, air quality has temporarily improved, but there is a risk of returning to pre-COVID19 pollution levels, if no action is taken. Attention is now turning to how unprecedented economic recovery packages can be used to protect health and wellbeing, as well as livelihoods