Watch & Learn London – Air Pollution Success Stories

Air pollution is among the most dangerous killers in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that it claims the lives of about 3 million people on an annual basis. The number of individuals who develop life-threating health conditions such as lung cancer, asthma or bronchitis is much higher.  But while poor air quality is a problem of global proportions, it seems an issue which is particularly hard to tackle for one of the most economically powerful capitals in Europe – London. The London Pollution Initiative is currently trying to raise awareness about this problem and to push the government to take swift anti-air pollution measures.

Why London needs to be given a lesson

London has been regularly breaching the legal air pollution limits set not only by the European Commission but also those set by WHO since 2010. Regardless of its clean air initiatives and efforts to reduce the dangerous levels of NO2 and PM2.5 in its air, however, the English capital has failed to improve its air quality and to bring it down within the healthy limits.

London’s air pollution problem measured in numbers

  • Nearly one in four educational institutions in the city are exposed to illegal amounts of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide)
  • More than 9,500 people die prematurely in London every year because they were exposed to toxic amounts of air pollutants and dangerous particles
  • 50% of all air pollution in the UK capital is caused by road transport
  • 40% of all air pollution in London is caused by diesel vehicles

It is clear that London needs an intervention and many have already tried to sound the alarm by joining the London Pollution Initiative. In 2016, Sumru Ramsey, a mother of three with a Business Degree living in London, started a discussion about the poor air quality in the city. The thing that inspired her decision to voice her concerns publicly and to seek for support from her fellow Londoners were not only the numerous reports that were released around that time which presented shocking revelations one of which stated that every year, thousands of people who live in the English capital die as a direct result of the high air pollution levels in the city. Sumru Ramsey’s real trigger was the sudden passing of a friend of one of her children. At the fragile age of 9, her son’s friend died from a disease that is directly caused by air pollution – asthma. That inspired Ramsey to start an online petition which aimed at raising awareness among the people of London about the illegal air pollution levels in the city and the effect they have on both adults and young children. Sumru Ramsey, who is also actively participating in several charity organisations such as the Womanity Charity and Humans Rights Watch Council, believes that London can have more control over its air quality if all cars which are old or run on diesel are banned and if we reduce the general number of vehicles on the city’s roads. Ramsey also urges the UK government to install real-time air quality display boards around London and educate Londoners on the dangers of air pollution and the ways in which they can protect themselves from it.

These, however, are just a few of the ways in which London can conquer its dirty air problem. Many countries and cities around the world have already managed to solve that issue by using different methods. Maybe the Big Smoke can learn from those good examples.

European capitals with the worst and best air quality


China is probably not the first country that comes to one’s mind, especially when we put it in the context of a subject such as good air quality. Currently, 40% of the 50 cities with the worst air quality in the world are located namely in that Asian country. Nevertheless, the reason why London can learn from China is that the Chinese government has taken a long list of anti-air pollution measures that have improved the air quality in many of its cities. As a start, the country encouraged its population to stop using furnaces and coal stoves. It has also drastically cut down the production of coal and steel-fired electricity and instead it has embraced more eco-friendly alternatives such as wind and solar power. The most important thing that China has decided to do in an attempt to curb high air pollution levels in its atmosphere is to simply be more open and honest with its people. Aside from giving its citizens the opportunity to easily monitor the air quality in their area, it has also admitted its failures.

Mexico City, Mexico

If you look at the latest ranking of the cities with the highest particle matter concentration, you will not be able to find Mexico City even if you go all the way to the bottom of the list. The reason for this is that the City of Palaces was one of the first in the world to introduce drastic anti-pollution measures. That was because it was one of the first cities on the globe to face a dirty air problem. Back in 1992, the United Nations crowned Mexico City as the world’s most polluted place and that was like a wake-up call for the local government. Since then, the city’s public transport network has been greatly improved and expanded, factories were pushed outside of the city’s limits, natural gas has replaced highly toxic fuel alternatives and old cars were banned.

Southern California

London and Southern California have one big thing in common – the number of cars on local roads is greatly increasing every single year. However, unlike the English capital, Southern Cali’s air is surprisingly clean. Why? Because it has been encouraging its population to install newer and cleaner engines and to use cleaner fuel since the mid-1990s. In more recent years, SoCal has also started to provide incentives to people who use electric vehicles.

Is there hope for London?

What these examples show is that the battle against poor air quality can take decades. However, if London is as consistent as Southern California, as determined as Mexico City and as honest to its people as China, it should have no problem to shake off its Big Smoke nickname once and for all. In the meantime, campaigns such as the London Pollution Initiative need to continue to talk about the English capital’s air pollution problem and make sure that it stays on top of lawmakers’ priorities list.

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