The Retailer Summer Edition_2020

The health impacts of air pollution It is estimated that the lives of over 40,000 people in the UK are cut short each year through breathing polluted air and hundreds of thousands more lives are affected. The COVID-19 crisis provides another example of the impact poor air quality has on human health. The British Lung Foundation found that two million people in the UK with respiratory conditions such as asthma have experienced reduced symptoms as a result of the fall in air pollution levels since lockdown. The government has long been aware of the impact of poor air quality on our health, and has a legal obligation to act – which it failed for ten years to live up to. The lack of an adequate response has forced ClientEarth to take the government to court three times over the last eight years. This has resulted in 63 local authorities across England and Wales being required to come up with their own proposals to tackle illegal levels of pollution in their areas. Change is coming Change has been far too slow until now but there are many reasons today to feel optimistic about clean air. Lockdown has seen an increase in public concern about air pollution. According to Global Action Plan polling, 59% of the public feel that that air quality has been better since lockdown with 72% of people believing clean air is more important. As Charlotte illustrated, this increased public demand to clean up our air is accompanied by an increasing number of new options to make zero emission journeys and deliveries.

Those joining the event we are hosting next month will hear case studies showing how these solutions are already being effectively employed by a number of UK businesses. At the same time we have seen a change in the political discourse. In France, President Emmanuel Macron has recognised that people will not want to go back to breathing dirty air after lockdown. The same is true in the UK with the Minister for Transport Grant Shapps recently stating: “One of the few positive benefits about the crisis is drastically better air quality and the health benefits that that brings’. A host of environmental and business groups are putting pressure on the government to ‘build back better’.” The government has set some long-term targets, for example, to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2050 and is consulting on whether it should bring forward the date for the phase out of sales of all new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. However, while the direction of travel is clear, for most of us the immediate road ahead is not. A clear plan is badly needed in order for businesses to invest with confidence in zero emission transport solutions while engaging customers, employees and other stakeholders along the way. We also need to see government provide funding to help make zero emission options affordable until they reach cost parity with their polluting counterparts; investment to ensure businesses and individuals have access to adequate charging infrastructure; and measures to ensure that the supply of zero emission vehicles, in particular vans, meets demand. The retail sector has a key role to play in cleaning up our air, through shifting their fleets to clean vehicles, providing charging facilities for customers with electric vehicles and by using their influence and profile to shift the public and political debate. I look forward to discussing this crucial topic with retailers next month.

1Opinium polling for GAP of 2,002 UK adults, May 2020 2Opinium polling for GAP of 2,002 UK adults, May 2020 3Opinium polling for GAP of 2,002 UK adults, May 2020

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