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Global cities convene in London to tackle triple threat of congestion, air pollution and the climate emergency

Image by Dan Jones from Pixabay

The ‘voice of youth’ is at the heart of a concerted campaign by 16 global cities against the triple threat of congestion, air pollution and the climate emergency.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, as Chair of the C40 Cities movement, was joined by leaders from all 16 partner cities, as well as health experts, youth activists and union leaders at London’s City Hall to kick off a three-day study tour.

Cities will have the opportunity to experience first-hand London’s leading environment and transport policies, including the world’s first 24 hour Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).

And already two youth activists from Kenya and India have made their mark at the event, urging people to come together to achieve meaningful change. Juliet Oluoch, from Nairobi, said: “I call upon individuals, organisations, local and National governments to collectively work towards improving the air quality in cities because only that way we can beat climate change.

The climate crisis is more evident daily

“I desire a future where breathing clean air is a human right and going to the store, to school or to work does not create pollution.”

Asheer Kandhari, a youth activist from Delhi, said: “To me, coming from a country like India, the climate crisis is more than evident on a day-to-day basis. I see it in the perpetually hazardous air quality, the scorching heat waves of the summer, the extreme precipitation events and so much more.

“As children in school, we are taught that three basic elements are needed for our survival: air, water and food. Yet, at this point in time, a majority of India’s population is being deprived of not one but all three of these necessities.”

Mayor Khan published new data from the expansion of the ULEZ to cover an area with a population of four million people. There were 67,000 fewer non-compliant vehicles in the zone on an average day compared to the period right before the ULEZ expanded. As a result, the scheme has helped reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in inner London by 20 per cent, building on a reduction in central London of 44 per cent.

A quarter of London’s carbon emissions come from transport. To address this, the mayor has set a target for London to be net-zero by 2030. Earlier this year, London’s City Hall revealed that the cost of traffic congestion to London’s economy stands at £5.1 billion a year, and warned that unless efforts to deliver a green, sustainable recovery from the pandemic increase, the capital could lurch from one public health and economic crisis to another, caused by filthy air and gridlocked roads.

The burden of air pollution falls disproportionately

Toxic air kills more than eight million people worldwide each year, and is responsible for a range of health problems, including asthma, heart disease, premature births and reduced cognitive performance. Over 99 per cent of residents of C40 cities reside in areas with air pollution levels deemed unhealthy by the WHO. The burden of outdoor air pollution falls disproportionately on people in low and middle-income countries, where 91 percent of premature pollution-related deaths take place, according to the WHO.

As Chair of C40, Mayor Khan has committed to putting social justice at the heart of his vision for C40 cities and has already delivered on his key pledge to direct a record two-thirds of the C40 budget towards Global South cities. In line with Mayor Khan’s commitment to tackle air pollution worldwide, C40 will work with twelve cities in the Global South, with support from the Clean Air Fund, to advance targeted projects aimed at reducing air pollution and improving public health. C40 will support cities with air quality and health data collection, analysis and management, the delivery of policies to create low emission zones, zero emission areas, vehicle emissions testing programmes, freight measures and other actions, as well as communication and citizen engagement strategies to support the implementation of the policies and programmes.

In Bogotá, Rio and Lima, C40 is supporting the design of zero or low emission zones to reduce traffic emissions, and in Mexico City, C40 will work with the city to reduce emissions from freight, a major source of pollution. Through this work, C40 aims to reduce the 70,000 deaths and 75,000 new cases of childhood asthma occurring each year due to air pollution in these cities.

Mayor Khan said: “We are facing a pivotal moment in our efforts to tackle the triple dangers of toxic air pollution, climate change and congestion. I’m delighted to host these global cities and hope what they see in London, like the ULEZ which has reduced by almost a half toxic air in Central London, inspires them to take ambitious action to protect the health of their citizens and support their economies.

“We simply don’t have time to waste – deadly air pollution is permanently damaging the lungs of young children and affecting older people who are more vulnerable to the impacts of poor air quality. This is also about social justice – we know pollution hits the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest, which is why I’m working with C40 doing everything I can to improve air quality and protect the health of our residents.”

We don’t have time to waste

Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions, President of the C40 Board and 108th Mayor of New York City, said: “Cities are laboratories of innovation, and by sharing what works with others around the world, they can dramatically increase the pace of progress on the toughest global challenges, including air pollution and climate change.

“The Air Quality and Transport Solutions Summit brings together global city leaders to build partnerships—with organizations like C40 and cities like London – and spread data-driven solutions ​around the world. Improving air quality in cities will strengthen public health and drive economic growth, while also addressing many of the causes of climate change.”

Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department of Public Health and Environment, said: “The climate and pollution crisis are killing millions of us every year. We can no longer compromise on clean air. We need the engagement of mayors, we need strong interventions at urban level to confront this massive public health challenge. Be ambitious, a healthy society is the best reward.”

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah is the Founder, Director and Trustee of The Ella Roberta Foundation, set up in the wake of the death of her daughter Ella, from toxic air pollution. She said air pollution has become ‘normalised in our society due to its invisibility.

Little lungs are being permanently stunted

“On every walk to school, bike ride, and every time children play outside, their bodies are absorbing the toxic air spewed out by petrol and diesel vehicles. Children – like my daughter Ella – die horrible, early deaths as a result,” she said.

“In London every year childhood asthma deaths are still between 8-12. Little lungs are being permanently stunted. Little brains are suffering from impaired cognitive development. As filthy air combines with climate-changed heat advisories, I feel terrified for the health of children in our city.

“Air pollution is a silent pandemic, and unless we clean up the air, we will never have social justice or resolve climate change. Ella would be alive today if air pollution around our home had been within the WHO acceptable limits. I’ll be watching to see how the results of this study tour translate into real life action for London, and other cities involved. Clean energy and better public transport save lives. We cannot wait any longer. Breathing clean air is every child’s human right, and that’s what should be normalised.”

Another youth activist, Juliet from Nairobi, added her voice to the campaign: “I call upon individuals, organizations, local and National governments to collectively work towards improving the air quality in cities because only that way we can beat climate change. I desire a future where breathing clean air is a human right and going to the store, to school or to work does not create pollution.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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