Big majority of people in five key countries want stricter regulation on air pollution post COVID-19

by CCAC secretariat - 17 June, 2020
Results from a new YouGov poll supported by the Clean Air Fund, show that at least two-thirds of citizens in five countries want improved air pollution following covid-19

Air pollution around the world fell during nationwide “lockdowns” prompted by COVID-19. And people noticed. As governments begin to put in place stimulus packages to kick-start their economies there is growing public demand for investments in measures to reduce air pollution.

At least two-thirds of citizens in Bulgaria, Great Britain, India, Nigeria and Poland support stricter laws and enforcement to tackle air pollution following the COVID-19 crisis, a new YouGov poll conducted on behalf of the Clean Air Fund shows today. In Nigeria and India more than 90% of those surveyed wanted to see air quality improved in their area.

Results from the YouGov-Clean Air Fund poll.

The poll - the first to pose these questions to citizens in several countries - also highlights that at least 71% of people surveyed are concerned about air pollution as a public health issue, and 76% as an environmental issue. The findings are published in the Clean Air Fund’s new briefing, “Breathing Space”.

“There is clear public demand for governments around the world to act on clean air - and no excuse not to. As lockdowns are eased and economies restarted, people are clear that they do not want a return to toxic air. That would simply replace one health crisis with another,” said Jane Burston, Executive Director of the Clean Air Fund.

In an op-ed that referenced the findings of the poll, former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon said governments will never have a better chance to address these issues. He called on them to structure bailouts to wean sectors off fossil fuels and to prioritise green jobs, renewable energy and clean technology. 

"Governments must seize these opportunities to put clean air and climate justice at the heart of recovery plans, in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement," Mr Ban said. "This will not be easy, but it can and must be done. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll, but it could be just be a taste of things to come. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to build back better."

Breathing Space: why and how we must build back better to achieve clean air for all
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Breathing Space highlights the close connections between COVID-19 and air pollution and calls for governments to tackle them together in recovery plans. According to the briefing, toxic air has made people more vulnerable to the most severe impacts of COVID-19, resulting in more hospitalisations and deaths. This comes on top of the seven million premature deaths caused by air pollution every year, largely linked to strokes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

At the same time, air quality has improved near instantly as a result of decisive actions to protect public health through lockdowns. The briefing urges governments to use the unprecedented funds now being committed to recovery packages to lock in some of these benefits. Putting a joined-up strategy to tackle air pollution at the heart of the recovery would improve health, build resilience to future diseases, boost productivity, reduce health costs and help tackle climate change. The World Bank has calculated that air pollution costs the global economy $225 billion each year in lost labour income.

“Action to improve air quality is uniquely possible and popular right now. It would also help mitigate climate change, which has many of the same causes and also hits the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. Solutions already exist but they are not being scaled, copied or adapted with sufficient speed or focus,” Ms. Burston said. “Governments must harness this widespread public support for actions to clean our air and use post-COVID recovery packages to protect our health and environment.”

The Clean Air Fund is calling on leaders putting together recovery stimulus packages to:

  • Develop and resource joint national health and environment strategies, with a specific focus on tackling air pollution.
  • Make reducing air pollution a key element of economic stimulus packages.
  • Support the repurposing of city streets for walking and cycling.
  • Strengthen and enforce regulations to retain and build on the improvements in air quality experienced during the pandemic.
  • Work with other governments to tackle transboundary pollution.

The Clean Air Fund is a partner in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition