Global initiative calls for safer streets and cleaner air for children

A major international conference, ‘Every Journey, Every Child’ at London’s City Hall last month called for urgent action by government, industry and international agencies to tackle ‘the needless deaths of thousands of children worldwide due to toxic air and unsafe streets’.

The Mayors of London and Accra, alongside international agencies including the European Network for Child Friendly Cities, came together at London’s City Hall in October to launch The Child Health Initiative (CHI), convened by the FIA Foundation.

Central to the new initiative was its Declaration of Every Child’s Right to Safe and Healthy Streets which comprises six articles focused on protecting children from traffic related toxic air pollution and road traffic injury. The Declaration calls for global leaders to sign up and commit to the protection of children who are currently using the world’s most dangerous streets, to ensure they are not breathing the polluted air that is especially damaging to growing lungs, and to provide a safe and healthy journey to school for every child worldwide.

“It’s sickening to know that nearly 95 per cent of the capital is exceeding WHO guidelines by at least 50 per cent.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Mayor Khan said “It’s sickening to know that not a single area of London meets World Health Organisation (WHO) health standards, but even worse than that, nearly 95 per cent of the capital is exceeding these guidelines by at least 50 per cent. We should be ashamed that our young people – the next generation of Londoners – are being exposed to these tiny particles of toxic dust that are seriously damaging their lungs and shortening their life expectancy”.

‘Breathe Life’

In a first contribution to the Declaration’s agenda, Mayor Khan, Mayor of Accra Mohammed Adjei Sowah, and FIA Foundation Chairman Lord Robertson signed up to the Breathe Life campaign. Breathe Life, a campaign of WHO, UN Environment and Climate and Clean Air Coalition ‘aims to mobilise cities and individuals to protect public health and the planet from the effects of air pollution’.

The CHI Declaration supports ‘Breathe Life’ in its call to achieve safe air quality levels by 2030. The FIA Foundation is contributing to the campaign through its coordination of The Real Urban Emissions Initiative (TRUE) which is measuring the real emissions of vehicles in London and Paris to inform policymakers and consumers.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Chairman, FIA Foundation, said: “We’re facing a global public health emergency for our children. It’s taking place right in front of us, on our streets. Yet the international community is failing to respond with anything like sufficient urgency … The FIA Foundation urges every city to take action to tackle the twin epidemics of road traffic injury and air pollution.”

These fundamental children’s rights are being violated every day … we are killing them

Zoleka Mandela, Global Ambassador for the Child Health Initiative

“Worldwide, these fundamental children’s rights are being violated every single day .. we are killing them – with toxic pollution, with dangerous traffic. In the 21st century this cannot be allowed to happen. We have the solutions, we can save lives on our streets. Our leaders must step up and act. For every child, for every life.”

The UN Special Envoy for Road Safety, Jean Todt told the conference: “Let us not forget that at the heart of this issue are children. Children who have a basic right to step out of their front door and travel to school or to meet their friends safe from injury, safe from harm.”

Child friendly cities

Among the speakers at the conference was Adrian Voce, President of the European Network for Child Friendly Cities, who opened day 2 of the event. He told delegates that government responsibilities to children and young people extend beyond protecting them from traffic and air pollution, to include their right to play and socialise within the public realm, and to be supported as full stakeholders in their towns and cities with the right to enjoy their own culture and fully participate in the life of their communities.

Voce suggested that meeting these obligations requires concerted, strategic and long-term planning to develop genuinely child and youth friendly streets, estates and neighbourhoods – and a web of child friendly access and mobility routes to connect children to the wider urban environment. To do this, he said, society must first confront the dominance of motor traffic in public space.

Source: FiA Foundation

Photo: Joel Hernandez


The FIA Foundation is an independent UK registered charity which supports an international programme of activities promoting road safety, the environment and sustainable mobility, as well as funding motor sport safety research.

The Child Health Initiative can be downloaded here

Author: Adrian Voce

President of the European Network for Child Friendly Cities

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