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by Joseph Carter, Head of Asthma + Lung UK Scotland
08 May 2024
Associate Feature: Everyone deserves the right to breathe clean air - Scotland’s Low Emission Zones are a vital way of tackling air pollution

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Associate Feature: Everyone deserves the right to breathe clean air - Scotland’s Low Emission Zones are a vital way of tackling air pollution

Everyone deserves the right to breathe clean air - Scotland’s Low Emission Zones are a vital way of tackling air pollution.
The next phase of Low Emission Zone (LEZ) rollouts in Scotland this summer, with enforcement beginning in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh, following similar moves in Glasgow last year, will be a huge step forward in tackling air pollution. 

Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to public health. At a cost of £1.1 billion per year to Scotland (1), it is draining our resources, straining our health system and cutting short over 2,700 lives a year in Scotland (2)

Emissions can cause new lung conditions, like lung cancer and asthma, and worsening existing ones. With 1 in 5 Scots developing a lung condition in their lifetime, for them, air pollution can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks and exacerbations. Lung conditions, already the third biggest killer in the UK, are being worsened by toxic air. 

 As they grow, toxic air can stunt the growth of children’s lungs, making them less resilient into adulthood and placing them at greater risk of lung disease in the future. More than 70,000 children have asthma in Scotland and for them, peaks in toxic air can put them at risk of a potentially life-threatening attack.   

Whilst we support these councils and the Scottish Government introducing LEZs, we would like to see policies that go further, helping to clear up pollution hotspots throughout the country, not just in these four main cities. We need a model of LEZs that can work for any town or city across the nation. 

We need politicians from all parties to be coming together to tackle air pollution and encourage behavioural change. With greater investment in public transport and active travel, and exemptions for the most vulnerable, we redesigned our cities to be far healthier places. 

LEZs have been introduced in over 250 places across Europe resulting in a fall in harmful pollutants, a decrease in car use and an increase in walking and cycling. According to new research, roadside levels of NO2 pollutants fell by 49% between 2016 and 2023 in London for example, and were lower last year even than in 2020, when there were extended periods of lockdown during the Covid pandemic (3)

Communities want bold action to tackle toxic air and for governments to help them protect their health and their families. No one wants to see their loved one fight for breath just because the air they breathe. 

The benefits of Low Emission Zones are:  
Healthier communities:
By restricting access to the most polluting vehicles, LEZs lead to a decrease in harmful pollutants and cleaner air. 

Reduced healthcare costs: Air pollution costs the Scottish economy over a billion pound each year in days lost at work and costs to the NHS. As air quality improves, this will ease the effect on people with respiratory and other health conditions. 

Economic benefits: Improved air quality can help to boost tourism, stimulate local businesses, all of which contribute to economic growth. When people are walking or cycling they’re more likely to see and visit smaller shops, cafes and restaurants. If air is less polluted then it helps make cities better places to live, work and visit. 

More active and sustainable travel: LEZs promote the use of greener, more sustainable modes of transport, such as walking, cycling, and public transport. 

Encourage use of cleaner vehicles: LEZs incentivise vehicle owners and businesses to upgrade their fleets to comply with LEZ emission standards ensuring a reduction in the most polluting vehicles. 

We need to make tackling air pollution a national priority and LEZs are just the start. We all need to think about how we live, how we work and how we travel. We need to properly incentivise the behavioural change needed and have a fully integrated, affordable public transport system to create a world of clean air and healthy lungs.  

1. It is estimated that air pollution costs the Scottish economy over £1.1 billion each year in days lost at work and costs to the NHS. (Extrapolated from a Defra assessment that air pollution costs the UK economy as a whole £16 bn per year, based on 29,000 UK- wide deaths from air pollution: Defra, “Impact pathway guidance for valuing changes in air quality” (May 2013))  
2. Chemical hazards and poisons report: issue 28 ( 
3. Ulez helped London cut road pollution faster than rest of UK, report says | Air pollution | The Guardian

This article is sponsored by Asthma + Lung UK Scotland


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