Public health, environmental and social determinants of health (PHE)

Public health policy for outdoor air quality

How will reducing the number of cars in circulation in a large city reduce urban outdoor air pollution and have a benefit on health and well-being?

Although newer motor vehicles have more efficient engines and are using cleaner fuels, the absolute number of vehicles and the power of each engine are still increasing and consequently so are the levels of outdoor air pollution in cities. For example, in parts of Europe where stricter standards and regulations for vehicles have been enforced, outdoor air pollution levels are stable or continue to rise due to the absolute increase in the number of vehicles on the road and in engine sizes.

Substituting car trips by public transport, or by walking and cycling, would reduce the number of cars in circulation and help clean the air we all breathe, as well as minimize the health burden from urban outdoor air pollution.

Transport is responsible for around 25 to 70% of urban outdoor air pollution, depending on the city, but there are many other sources that should also be tackled. Action in the energy, industry, and building sectors together with the transport sector holds the greatest potential for reducing the disease burden from urban outdoor air pollution.