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New sustainable transport funding needed with 44 cities above air quality guidelines

The government must spend money on sustainable modes of transport if the UK is to tackle the high number of cities with air quality in breach of guidelines.

According to a joint study between Lancet Countdown and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) there are 44 cities in the UK in breach of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on air quality.

The RCP says the government must consider this information and begin funding more sustainable modes of transport both locally and nationally.

Cycling, walking, public transport and electric vehicles have all been put forward as alternatives which would create less pollution. In fact, the health organisation says there would be an average social return on investment of £5.50 for every £1 spent in this way.

This month, London mayor Sadiq Khan announced the city’s new ‘T-charge’ which will levy a £10 fee on vehicles which do not meet the Euro 4 standard on emissions. Similarly, Edinburgh city council have opened consultation on extra charges for diesel drivers who park in the city centre.

In 2016, along with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the RCP estimated that ambient air pollution caused approximately 40,000 premature deaths, over 6 million sick days and an estimated total social cost of £22.6 billion per year.

The organisation’s special adviser on air quality, Professor Stephen Holgate, commented: “The UK is leading the way internationally on many areas of climate and health – with the recent T-charge a good example. Yet it continues to miss the glaring opportunities that can be implemented today with highly substantial benefit.”

“As the RCP and Lancet Countdown research shows, climate change is here and a health issue today. More can and should be done.

“The benefits for an overstretched health service alone are justification, but it is clear that the benefits of action will be felt much more widely, both economically and for those most affected by air pollution.”

Low air quality has been linked with a number of health issues, including asthma and heart problems.

Dr Toby Hillman, RCP lead on sustainability, explained: “We know that high exposures in early life have a major effect on lung and cognitive development throughout an individual's life – that is why it is the government's duty to improve the air we breathe and to ensure that people across the UK are not exposed to such a preventable cause of death and illness.

“Addressing climate change and poor air quality isn’t a burden or cost, but fundamentally an opportunity we should grasp with both hands.”

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