The making the case for the environment (MCE) series aims to demonstrate that by taking action to protect a specific aspect of our natural environment (such as water, air or land) can lead to additional benefits for the wider environment, society and the economy.
Over the next couple of years, we will be producing a series of core documents that presents a case for the benefits that can be gained by protecting different parts of Scotland’s environment, along with supporting materials to illustrate the points raised.
The first in the series is understanding the benefits of improving urban air quality. Here we explore the issues regarding air quality in Scotland’s towns and cities, and demonstrate how actions to improve it (such as reducing vehicular traffic in residential areas) can lead to wider benefits for our communities.
As part of this, we have produced a core document that addresses the issue (a summary of which can be found below), as well as a number of articles, case studies, videos and relevant links, that can be accessed via our making the case web pages.
- Introduction to the benefits of improving urban air quality
- Air is essential to all human life, and the quality of the air we breathe is important as it has a direct impact upon our health and natural environment. In Scotland, our air quality is good compared with some parts of Europe. However, there are parts of our country, mainly in our town and cities, where air quality is poor, due to air pollution.
Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental concerns today. Unlike the dense smog of the 1950s, today’s air pollution is less visible, largely caused by a cocktail of pollutants emitted from the many vehicles on our roads.
The burning of fuels such as diesel, can release very small particles of material, including soot, carbon and unburnt fuel into the air. If we breathe in air containing these particles, they can make their way into our body, where they can worsen existing conditions such as asthma and, heart and respiratory conditions.
- Greening our cities
- Greening our towns and cities can im
prove air quality. Measures such as green roofs on buildings, planting wildflower meadows, creating new greenspaces, such as parks and allotments, and planting certain species of trees on empty land or on roadside verges can all contribute to the removal of harmful substances fro our air, as well as help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere.
The benefits of greening our cities go beyond improving air quality.
- Greenspaces and other environmental features can help to reduce health risks from traffic, air pollution, noise and flooding. This can make cities more pleasant and vibrant places to live that support sustainable living and working, improving well-being.
- Planting trees along roadsides can help to separate pedestrians from traffic, creating safer walking routes. It can also reduce the visual and noise effects of traffic as well as allowing vehicle pollutants to disperse from the road thus reducing their concentrations in the atmosphere.
- Greenspaces can aid recovery from physical and mental problems, and guard against future illness, as well as increase mental concentration through contact with nature. They can also improve health through recreation, volunteering and learning in the outdoors.
- Active travel
- As much of the air pollution in our urban environment is as a result of us getting from A to B, encouraging and enabling active travel choices such as walking, running and cycling, as well as introducing a reliable, well designed and integrated public transport system, will not only reduce harmful emissions, but have the potential to deliver many other benefits, including reducing the likelihood of obesity and other health related issues.
Active travel also has the potential to deliver other benefits for urban communities.
- Research has found that each additional kilometre walked per day is associated with a 4.8% reduction in the likelihood of obesity, whereas each additional hour spent in a car per day is associated with a 6% increase in the likelihood of obesity.
- Even low levels of physical activity reduce the risks of ill health. Major gains in terms of reduced mortality and morbidity are possible by raising the activity levels of those insufficiently active people–even slightly.
- Reducing the number of vehicles on our roads lowers the risk of accidents, particularly those involving pedestrians and children, and would also lower the overall noise levels in urban areas, which can also be a significant contributor to certain health problems.
- Tackling health and social inequalities
- Air quality is likely to be poorer in some of the more deprived areas of our towns and cities. Those living in the dense, inner urban corridors along major routes into cities are the most likely to experience the poorest air quality. Therefore, by tackling air pollution where it is worst and where people are most disadvantaged by it would enable many more people to live longer, healthier lives.
Tackling urban air pollution where it is worst and where people are most disadvantaged by it has the potential to deliver other benefits.
- This would then help to reduce the number of hospital admissions for conditions that can be related to the effects of poor air quality, thus saving time and money.
- Reducing the number of vehicles would also reduce overall noise levels in urban areas, which can be a significant contributor to certain health problems.
- Reduce the risk of traffic accidents, particularly involving pedestrians and children.
- Tackling climate change
- Some air pollutants contribute to climate change. As air pollution often comes from the same activities that contribute to climate change, tackling these activities together could help to improve local air quality and reduce emissions that contribute to climate change.
For example, promoting low-emission vehicles, particularly in towns and cities, would lead to significant public health benefits through improvements in urban air quality, while also making a significant contribution to reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.
Visit our website to view the making the case for air quality core document and supporting materials.