Happy World Car Free Day, and a huge well done to the people all around the world who have made the decision to choose active travel methods in aid of freeing streets of cars and harmful air pollution!
There has never been a more important time to spread awareness about the damage that transport emissions can cause on the ever-worsening climate, and it’s time for us to start implementing the changes that are critical for human health and for reducing the risk of global warming.
Transport, the Environment & Public Health
Transport is the largest contributor to excess UK greenhouse gases (GHG) and accounted for a quarter of our total emissions in 2019. In addition to GHG’s, petrol and diesel vehicles burn fossil fuel to power engines - this creates harmful gases and particulates in ambient air such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) which add to poor air quality.
Long term exposure to such air pollutants can cause and worsen symptoms of a wide range of different health problems such as asthma, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and in extreme cases this can also lead to hospitalisation and mortality. Such risks are why it’s so important for us to regularly monitor air quality and identify effective methods of mitigation.
We can all make small changes to prevent excess emissions entering the atmosphere and harming members of the public. For example, limiting car usage means that lower volumes of tailpipe emissions are entering the air. For Car Free Day in 2019, we used a Zephyr® monitor to measure pollution levels in London and found that the reduced number of vehicles contributed to improved air quality levels when compared to Westminster (where business was as usual) and the City of London which was closed off for Car Free Day. This suggests that reduced vehicle usage really does help towards improved air quality.
With 68% of car journeys in the UK being under 5 miles and 23% under 1 mile, we can choose to walk or cycle for short journeys. Not only is this beneficial to health, but it also reduces whole communities’ pollution exposure, as air pollution has the ability to travel through the air and affect those nearby.
We can also choose to switch to electric vehicles which don’t involve burning of fossil fuels for power. Choosing to use electric vehicles means no tailpipe emissions are produced, therefore helping to reduce pollution pressures throughout road networks. With a reduction in tailpipe emissions, this contributes to improved air quality and improves personal pollution exposure, meaning a decreased risk of developing health issues and billions of pounds worth of NHS and social care costs saved.
COP26 & Legal Requirements
Car Free Day is a temporary solution to removing excess emissions which are harming the environment. Aimed to reduce the devastating impacts of climate change, this year the United Nations is holding the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP), which brings together parties from all over the world to agree on methods of accelerating the progress of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change. The UK is leading the event in partnership with Italy, who will be holding talks in Glasgow between 31st October – 12th November 2021.
COP26 will see over 190 world leaders and tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses, and citizens from around the world to raise awareness of the risks of climate change.
The summit will be one of the greatest chances for leaders to discuss how their transport plans, such as the UK government’s Transport Decarbonisation plan, will help to extend the benefits of Car Free Day to reduce atmospheric emissions and personal pollution exposure in the race to Net Zero.
The Transport Decarbonisation plan means the UK will