Majority of people in five key countries want priority action on air pollution

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Citizens from five countries were asked about their views on air quality.
Citizens from five countries were asked about their views on air quality.
The majority of respondents were worried about air pollution to some degree.
The majority of respondents were worried about air pollution to some degree.
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, according to a June 2020 YouGov poll on behalf of the Clean Air Fund.

A multi-country opinion survey conducted by the Clean Air Fund shows strong public support for governments to prioritise clean air in COVID-19 recovery packages. The Clean Air Fund is supported by a coalition of philanthropies, including the FIA Foundation.

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. In Nigeria and India an impressive 90% of those surveyed wanted to see air quality improved in their area.

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. A majority have noticed the air is cleaner following "lockdowns" prompted by COVID-19. 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.

Breathing Space highlights the close connections between COVID-19 and air pollution, and calls for governments to tackle them together in recovery plans. Toxic air has made millions 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. Air pollution particles can even act as carrier for the virus.

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.

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.

FIA Foundation Deputy Director Sheila Watson welcomed the report:  

"We already know how very bad for our health – and that of our kids – dirty air is. We know too that polluting vehicles – particularly diesels - are a big part of the problem. This report offers an important insight into the public’s appetite for change. It shows that cities and Governments have all the popular support they need to BuildBackBetter and make clean vehicles and clean air a core part of their recovery plans post COVID. They must heed that call."

The YouGov plc survey was undertaken online between 22nd May – 2nd June 2020. Total sample size was 1,005 British adults, 1006 Bulgarian Adults, 1005 Polish Adults, 501 Nigerian Adults, and 1008 Indian Adults. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults (aged 18+) in GB, Bulgaria, Poland, and India. The data has been weighted to be representative of the online population in Nigeria.

The briefing is published at www.cleanairfund.org/breathingspace