Improving the quality of air we breathe

University of the West of England


Researchers from UWE Bristol have advanced knowledge on the complex connectivity of air quality management actions at the local and national level, leading to a better policies and support structures for improving the air we breathe in the UK, the EU and Africa.

Some 30,000 deaths in the UK every year are linked to air pollution, costing society around £20 billion. Local councils and citizens need to understand the risks it poses and how best to manage it.

In 1997, the UK’s first National Air Quality Strategy was laid out. But despite expectations that only a handful of locations in major cities would exceed the health-based objectives for maximum pollution levels, UWE Bristol research showed that 60 per cent of local authorities had declared areas with concerns about air-quality.

The research team scrutinised the processes used to manage local air quality including computer models and direct measurements. They also examined policy, transport planning, public exposure, air quality and carbon management processes within local authorities. This led to an unparalleled understanding of the complex interplay between air quality management activities at local and national levels.

Their findings influenced national and local policy, including the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, as well as the Greater London Authority and the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland.

In 2010, the UK Government launched a review of how local air quality is managed. This found considerable mismatch between the roles of central and local government. It endorsed authorities that had collaborated with other organisations and across departments, as identified by UWE Bristol research, in ways that could work better and reduce costs. The review also reaffirmed UWE Bristol findings by recommending that the Department for Transport develop a more concerted plan to improve air quality. In line with UWE Bristol research, it recommended that climate change and air quality policies be more closely aligned, especially at local level.

Their expertise has had an impact outside the UK as well. UWE Bristol was commissioned, as part of a consortium, by the EU to look at ozone pollution and the likely effects. This work informed the EC’s new air quality policy package in December 2013. The researchers also helped develop a new National Framework for Air Quality in South Africa which has seen an improving trend in ambient air quality while its research in the Niger Delta has influenced policy and practice in Nigeria.

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