No, the weather did not cause London’s air pollution spike – we did

Larissa Lockwood, Director of Clean Air at charity Global Action Plan explains why it’s important to target the sources of air pollution and not just tell those most vulnerable to hide from it. 

2022 has started cautiously in my household. After a Christmas of self-induced isolation to protect grandparents, we are now gingerly emerging from our cocoon, putting a toe outside the door and reengaging with the world.

Only for me to be told on Friday not to go for my weekly run because the air in London was so bad, that asthmatics such as me were not safe to leave our homes.

It was speculated that the air pollution spike was caused by high air pressure. This is false.

High air pressure does not cause air pollution. We cause air pollution, through a system and behaviours that are reliant on burning fossil fuels.

But where was the advice telling Londoners to improve the air quality by leaving the car at home today if possible, or not using their log burner that evening? Instead of the polluter, the onus was instead placed on the victims – those most vulnerable and the elderly being told to avoid going outside.

If we want to protect our health from air pollution, we need to get rid of the air pollution, not just tell those most vulnerable to it to hideaway. Instead of blaming high air pressure for the high air pollution, let’s target the sources of air pollution, as to have clean air every day we need to make some changes. As we head into 2022 these are five clean air outcomes that we at Global Action Plan would like to see happen so that we can all breathe cleaner air:

  1. For people to be able to make healthy, clean air choices through:
  • A sustained, positive national public health campaign on the health risks of air pollution and what people can do to protect their health
  • Putting air pollution on the medical curriculum, and training all relevant healthcare professionals to advise patients on how to protect their health

2. A significant reduction of the number of vehicles on the road through:

  • Safe cycling and walking routes
  • An integrated, affordable public transport system
  • All planning decisions to prioritise people over vehicles

3. The removal of high-polluting lifestyle driven causes of air pollution:

  • Ban domestic burning in urban areas
  • Limit sales of over-sized cars in urban areas
  • Reduce the number of delivery vehicles on roads

4. Children’s health to be protected:

  • Make schools and playgrounds clean air places
  • Children to have the right to breathe clean air

5. Reduce health inequalities arising from air pollution:

  • Change the narrative around air pollution so it is clearly understood that the polluter is required to act not just the vulnerable to protect themselves
  • Ensure those who are most affected are involved in air quality decision-making processes
  • Focus action to cut pollution to reduce the harms on those who are most affected by it, recognising they frequently do less to cause it in the first place.

Working with others across the clean air sector, we will maximise every opportunity to call on governments and major polluters to act implement these changes. In order to progress these outcomes in 2022, Global Action Plan will be focusing on the following five areas:

1. Developing and promoting tools and support to help schools, the health sector, and businesses to cut air pollution.

2. Working on pilot studies with GPs looking at how best to integrate patient advice on air pollution into the patient pathway.

3. Coordinating clean air communications including the Clean Air Day campaign – the major catalyst in the year when information about air pollution is readily shared with the public and when people act for clean air.

4. Calling out polluting industries and businesses, to change their systems to produce less toxic pollution.

5. Harnessing insights from our work with schools, healthcare, business, and the public to advise policy.

We will not achieve these five clean air outcomes on our own, and so I invite everyone reading this to share what you will be doing to tackle air pollution this year. By collaborating and working together we can achieve cleaner air so that no one needs to be told not to exercise outside for fear of air pollution


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2 years ago

Just got a mouthful of smoke on a London overground platform as a coal powered freight train went past me. I often see them, surprising that they are still using coal power in this day and age!

Hema Amrutha
Hema Amrutha
2 years ago

thanks Larissa
I appreciate your great analysis towards the air pollution
and the precautions to be taken to get rid of this
i will try to share this information to make this world pollution free

2 years ago

Excellent! Only one small point Larissa. We would like the wood burning to be restricted in suburban and village streets too. It is not urban air alone that reeks of wood smoke in the evenings now.Manyrural stoves are not even necessary. Lke the towns ones they are there as fashion fads or for the nice warm glow and the “back to nature” feeling which we do understand. But the fact that they give off air pollution is being largely ignored. Ideally only those who have no other means to stay warm (enough) in winter should be burning wood and coal these days. But as you say this is now about educating the publoci and perhaps even the NHS? That is what we have to do. We would like to have air pollution information available at our doctor’s surgery. Then we might be believed. Thank you very much for your words and work.

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