Pollutionwatch: lessons to learn from UK’s 1956 Clean Air Act

Pollutionwatch: lessons to learn from UK’s 1956 Clean Air Act

Bold air quality actions can work and public understanding and political leadership are crucial

This month marks 65 years since the UK’s 1956 Clean Air Act, the law that followed the coal-smoke smog that killed thousands of Londoners in 1952. What did it get right, what did it get wrong, and what can we learn to help with today’s air pollution?

First, air quality actions can work if they are sufficiently bold. Take Beijing. In the four years after the Olympics, targeted actions reduced particle pollution by 35% – a huge air pollution improvement. But we tend to dismiss this as something that could not be achieved with our political systems. It can. London’s particle pollution dropped by 67% in the 10 years after the 1956 act. Between 2017 and 2019, the central London ultra-low emission zone decreased nitrogen dioxide from traffic by more than 36%.

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