We frequently see the cost of motoring splashed across the headlines in relation to petrol prices, road tax or vehicle insurance. We don’t often consider the less obvious cost of keeping all those cars on the road – the huge impact air pollution has on public health and the wider economy.
Breathing in polluted air increases your chances of having a heart attack, stroke or developing lung cancer. On days of high pollution, it is impossible for some asthma sufferers to leave their homes.
Government research shows that each year air pollution claims the lives of 2,000 people in Scotland and costs the economy £1.6 billion.
Scotland is currently part of two legal actions for breaking European air quality laws in Glasgow, Edinburgh, the North-east and Central Scotland. Scottish councils have declared 35 pollution zones where air quality standards are consistently breached. There are moral, financial and legal imperatives for action.
Despite these shocking figures, the government budget for 2015-16 has only allocated a pitiful £3.15 million to improve air quality: 500 times less than the cost of the pollution to the Scottish economy and no increase from last year.
Scotland needs a transport revolution: only 1.6 per cent of people cycle to work and just 10 per cent take the bus. We need many more people to be active and use public transport. Low Emission Zones, where vehicles must meet emission standards or pay a fine, should be rolled out across the country.
The transport sector, as well as causing air pollution, is the third largest contributor to Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Greener transport would also help us meet the targets in our world-leading Climate Act.
Last week the Scottish Government launched its new Low Emission Strategy, which aims to set us on the path to some of the cleanest air in Europe. However, they failed to set aside any new money for its implementation. A case of “We know where we want to go – we just haven’t any money to get there.”
And a little more could go a long way: it could improve our health, reduce inequality, help Scotland hit its climate targets and save Scottish taxpayers billions in the long run.
• Emilia Hanna is air pollution campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland