Written evidence submitted by Global Action Plan (GAP)(AQU0023)


Global Action Plan (GAP) is an NGO mobilising action to tackle the root cause of environmental and health crises. We work collaboratively with central and local government, businesses, the health sector, NGOs, academia, schools, individuals and other public bodies (including Highways England and the Environment Agency). Our aim is to achieve a thriving and healthy society that is good for people and fits within planetary boundaries.

Reaching safe air quality levels will only be achieved through action by all parties whose choices influence pollution levels – businesses, central and local government, other institutions and the public. We have been working in partnership with hundreds of organisations to tackle air pollution, and run the UK’s largest air quality campaign – Clean Air Day – and it is from this viewpoint that we comment on progress and future potential to act.

We have provided information below only for the questions posed by EFRA to which we have a valuable contribution.


1. Did the UK Government’s 2019 Air Quality Strategy set out an effective and deliverable strategy to tackle the UK’s poor air quality and address the issues raised in our 2018 report? Has the UK Government put in place the necessary structures and resources to deliver its strategy?   

A. The National Health Campaign

In 2018 the EFRA committee rightly called for “a national health campaign to highlight the dangers of air pollution, including the fact that air quality can be far worse inside a vehicle than on the street. Regular motorists, children, and vulnerable groups must be informed of these risks”.


To date, nothing that matches this description has been created.


We have first-hand experience of attempting to rectify this situation, both through lobbying the government to run such a campaign, and simultaneously building the best national campaign in place of any government-led campaign.


In 2017, Global Action Plan initiated the National Clean Air Day campaign. It has grown to become the country’s largest education campaign on air pollution, backed by 250 supporter organisations, attracting millions of pounds worth of mainstream media and social media coverage, and sparking the organic involvement of thousands of volunteers across the country running hundreds of events.


This campaign has had some effect, with 20 million more people in the UK now able to list a specific health impact of air pollution than before the campaign started (Our tracker survey found that 41% of the public could name a specific health impact before Clean Air Day in 2017, and that has increased to 80%). This campaign is one of the few behaviour change initiatives that Public Health England found to have promise in tackling the impact of air pollution in its 2019 review of interventions. But there many public knowledge improvements are still needed, including the specific point that the EFRA committee raised that most do not understand the high level of exposure to pollution inside cars. This campaign, whilst award winning, has a budget that differs by orders of magnitude to the campaigns that the government funds on smoking, healthy eating, drug awareness, and drink driving. For example, we have not had the budget to pay for even one advert.

During this time we have continued to encourage the government and public bodies to do more. We have met with the previous minister with responsibility for air quality, the previous deputy chief medical officer, and contributed to many Defra and Public Health England roundtables and discussions over the last three years. We believe a request for funds for a national engagement campaign may have been submitted by Defra during a spending review, but if that request was submitted, we are unaware of the result.


Defra has been a supporter of the Clean Air Day campaign, and has found some funding to contribute to the successful running of the campaign. The Scottish and the Welsh Governments are also contributors to the running costs. Neither DHSC nor Public Health England have ever contributed to the campaign’s costs, although Public Health England is an active partner in the campaign, carrying messaging through its own media channels.


We are grateful for the support received from the public purse, but this gratitude is dulled by the knowledge that so much more needs to be done to help people minimise the impact of air pollution on their lives and their children’s lives, and to convince people to adopt low-pollution habits.


The entire Clean Air Day campaign, between 2017 and 2020, has spent only a fraction of the budget of making one car advert. The Clean Air Day coalition of 250 supporters – NGOs, universities, local authorities, NHS trusts, other public bodies – are ready and willing to run an effective year-round campaign if the government could spare just 0.01% of the government’s £27,000,000,000 road building programme. And as we explain in the document, there has never been a better time to engage with the public in pursuit of greater improvement of air quality than now.



B. The Polluter Pays Principle

The EFRA committee in 2018 rightly recommended that the automobile industry should contribute to a new clean air fund following the polluter pays principle. We are sad to report that the situation has not been rectified. The government has not secured any reparations for the dieselgate scandal and our small charity has had zero offers of financial support despite directly inviting car manufacturers to dedicate a fraction of the sale price of one vehicle towards our charitable projects to address the air pollution problem. Even worse, the car manufacturers have failed to make any major transition from polluting vehicles to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs).


Ten years ago, rapid change seemed possible, but we have instead seen a decade of major car manufacturers going in the wrong direction. The well-publicised “Dieselgate” scandal uncovered widespread and persistent cheating to avoid reducing emissions. Major vehicle manufacturers have also deliberately increased the production of excessively polluting vehicles with the IEA pointing out that the rise in sales of SUVs (from 18% of all sales in 2010 to 42% in 2018) has wiped out all the environmental gains of the marginal increase in EV sales. All the while, car manufacturers have made vast profits. The Center For Automotive Management states that “Global carmakers have been experiencing the best years in automotive history since 2011. The profit of the 17 most important manufacturers rose in 2017 to a total of around 106 billion euros ($121 billion) from 65 billion euros ($74 billion) in 2011”. These 17 companies made profits totalling $600bn while cheating to avoid reducing the emission of vehicles and deliberately fuelling a boom in heavily polluting SUVs.


Even the promises of the major manufacturers about their likely actions in the future do not inspire confidence. To take just a few examples of the manufacturers with the largest sales:


A whole generation of children have gone through school in the last decade suffering highly damaging levels of air pollution and the car companies have even tried to cheat the moderate improvements asked of them. They are the antithesis of “good corporate citizens” and the government has taken no action against them.



3. What progress had the UK Government made on reducing air pollution and enforcing legal pollution limits before the Covid-19 pandemic? 


  1. Zero Emission Vehicles

The market, the car companies and the government have failed to spark a revolution towards electric motoring.

Global Acton Plan’s (GAP) efforts to mobilise a switch to ZEVs point to one overriding failing in the transition to ZEVs: too few ZEVs are available, both in total number and variety of vehicle type.

We have proven a very clear demand for zero emission vehicles in the van sector. In partnership with the government’s Office For Low Emission Vehicles OLEV and Engie UK, GAP established the Clean Van Commitment in 2018. This commitment is to operate only zero tailpipe emission vans for city journeys by 2028. So far, 46 fleets comprising 73,000 vans have made this commitment. These fleets include some of the largest commercial van fleets including Tesco, Network Rail, Tarmac and CitySprint and public sector fleets including local authorities, NHS trusts and Defra’s commercial van fleet. One of these fleets is in the top 5 van fleets by number and this public commitment to act is not risk-free. Therefore, the manufacturers can only assess this as a dependable demand.


As there are approaching 4 million vans on the UK roads, but fewer than 5,000 of these were ZEVs in 2018 at the start of the initiative, operators of 73,000 vans publicly stating their desire to adopt ZEVs is a significant increase. Switching these vans brings the potential to increase the ZEV percentage of the national van fleet from 0.1% to 2%; a 20-fold increase.


Yet in 2020, the estimated number of electric vans coming to the UK is just 10,000, and the signatories of the Clean Van Commitment list the lack of available electric vans as the number one barrier to switching to ZEVs.


The need to transition to ZEVs for health and environmental reasons has been clear for over a decade, and demand for ZEVs has consistently outstripped supply. This last decade has also been an extremely profitable one for the major vehicle manufacturers, and yet the vast majority of vehicles rolling off production lines still consume fossil fuels and cause excess pollution. Average emissions have actually increased in recent years with the rise in manufacturing and selling more SUVs[3].


We can only conclude that the major car manufacturers are either ignoring the environmental and health imperatives demanding more ZEV sales and fewer ICE sales, or they are inept at leading this transition. The vehicle manufacturers have failed and the market has failed. The government has the opportunity to rectify this failure with strong regulation of the market, coupled with overwhelmingly attractive incentives, as the rules for the car companies are set on leaving the EU’s regulations.


Our simple recommendation is that government regulates strongly to force car manufacturers to produce fewer Internal Combustion Engine vehicles and more Zero Emission Vehicles. This should include setting the most ambitious phase out date for new ICE sales of 2030 and setting limits on the volume of ICE sales in comparison to ZEV sales in the intervening decade.


  1. Frustrating Experiences of Government Collaboration

Global Action Plan recognises the necessity of all sectors acting in synchronicity if we are to overcome the health burden of air pollution. Collaboration is essential and we make great efforts to collaborate with powerful decision makers. Our experience of collaborating with UK government departments to tackle air pollution matters has been both positive and negative. To summarise, it feels like the government has taken some steps forward but hasn’t taken great strides forward and sometimes takes a step back.

1.       We have worked with professional, smart, hard-working civil servants, clearly dedicated to tackling the issue of air pollution – especially in Defra. They have listened and acted on views and data presented by the NGO community.


2.       Central government departments have found ways to practically work together with GAP on initiatives that are making a real difference


a)      Clean Air Hub and Clean Air Day. As described above, Defra has provided some financial support and worked collaboratively with Global Action Plan to improve public knowledge on air pollution. Defra and Public Health England have provided guidance to ensure that GAP’s public messaging on air pollution is scientifically accurate, and this ‘official approval’ of the science behind our communications certainly improves their credibility and impact with the audience. This guidance and funding has been utilised to create the Clean Air Hub (www.cleanairhub.org.uk) a public-facing low-reading-age one-stop-shop with everything the public could want to know about avoiding and tackling air pollution. This guidance and funding has also supported the Clean Air Day campaign messaging and outreach as described in our response to question 1 (www.cleanairday.org.uk).


b)      Business Clean Air Taskforce. Throughout 2019, Global Action Plan arranged for Defra to meet with major businesses to discussed how businesses can minimise emissions and provide services and products that will improve air quality. As a result, eight major businesses including Uber, Philips, BP Chargemaster and the Canary Wharf Group decided to establish the Business Clean Air Taskforce in 2019. The group is the only UK business group solely dedicated to accelerating business action on air pollution. The group is chaired by Global Action Plan, and Defra joins the group discussions. The Business Clean Air Taskforce has now launched its first initiative – Business For Clean Air – to encourage, guide and make the business case for corporate action on air pollution. At the Business For Clean Air launch in June 2020, 15 businesses had pledged to become a business for clean air, which means they have a director-level leader for action on air pollution and will establish a clean air plan for their business. www.businessforcleanair.org



c)       Clean Van Commitment. In 2018, Global Action Plan launched the Clean Van Commitment, with the purpose of proving the market demand for electric vans. The Office for Low Emission Vehicles provided financial support, and the roads minister Jesse Norman chaired a roundtable to encourage fleets to participate and hear their views. The initiative has been a success with 46 fleets comprising 73,000 vans signing up. These fleets, including Tesco, Network Rail and CitySprint, have committed to switching all city van activity to zero emission vehicles by 2028. As there are approaching 4 million vans on the UK roads, but fewer than 5,000 of these were fully electric in 2018 at the start of the initiative, it is a significant signal to the market to have operators of 73,000 vans publicly stating their desire to adopt EVs. Switching all of these vans would increase the ZEV percentage of the national van fleet from 0.1% to 2%; a 20-fold increase.



d)      Equipping health professionals to educate the public. Defra recognised in the 2019 Clean Air Strategy that health professionals are a crucial messenger to providing vital advice on air pollution to members of the public. But without any central training of health professionals to enable them to disseminate advice – even amongst critical professions such as respiratory nurses – there is much work to be done to mobilise this profession. Defra has provided funding to GAP to work with health professionals to determine the best way to disseminate advice to the patients. This includes determining exactly when and how advice should be given in the patient care pathway, and how to train the health professionals who support patients for whom this advice is most important. The work has been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak making engagement with health professionals more difficult, but it will continue.



3.       Ultimately, the departments have too little spending power and people resources to drive the change across society that is needed to minimise air pollution rapidly

a)      Crucial staff at Defra have been unavailable to work on air quality matters for approximately 9 of the last 18 months as they were taken off air quality duties and not replaced. The first disruption was for several months in 2019 when Defra was scrambling to cope with the potential of an exit from the EU without an exit deal, and in recent months, responding to the COVID-19 outbreak made the air quality team unavailable to continue work on air quality. During these disrupted periods, at least one vital senior decision maker within Defra was entirely unable to work with Global Action Plan on the initiatives listed above. It looks to be that a lack of staffing capacity at Defra to cope with emergencies, coupled with the avoidable Brexit disruption has severely compromised Defra’s ability to deliver on the 2019 Clean Air Strategy.


b)      Initiatives are run with a bare minimum budget and make insufficient progress as a result. The initiatives described above – Business For Clean Air, Clean Air Day, Clean Air Hub, Clean Van Commitment, Health Professional Project – are running with a bare minimum budget. The business initiative is run with no public purse funding contribution at all. They are successful at their current level of scale, but none of these initiatives are sufficiently funded to lead to the scale of change that is needed to make a radical improvement in air quality and the management of its health impacts. We have made it clear that at any stage, the government could seize the opportunity of these initiatives and provide significant funding, and additional people resources to take these initiatives to greater scale. Each of these initiatives is a foot in the door, and if properly backed, we could see a dramatic increase in business action on air pollution, fleet transition to electric vehicles, and public behaviour change that cuts emissions and exposure to pollution.



c)       The Department of Health and Social Care should do much more to tackle this problem. The NHS is a vital institution in helping people to self-protect from air pollution. It is also a major contributor to pollution through its operations, and has a chance to influence pollution from patient and visitor travel. We welcome the inclusion of a commitment to reduce air pollution caused by the NHS fleet in the NHS long term plan. But this is not the extent of the contribution that DHSC could make. In March 2019 we launched the Clean Air Hospital Framework with Great Ormond Street Hospital. This combines a year of research in to one guide to help any hospital create its own plan to minimise air pollution. Great Ormond Street Hospital provided the funding for GAP to create this tool and help GOSH launch the world’s first Clean Air Hospital Strategy. We then provided a free open-source toolkit so that any hospital could follow suit in creating their own clean air action plan. Since its launch, we know that it has been utilised by more hospitals in the UK, and a handful have asked GAP to support them to create clean air plans. It has also been downloaded by many health institutions overseas. Neither DHSC nor NHS England has seized the opportunity to take this clean air hospital framework and roll it out to all hospitals in air pollution hotspots. A central taskforce could help all hospitals implement the framework, with the right skills and knowledge provided from a central team, in a highly cost efficient manner. Instead, the framework is slowly spreading by word of mouth around the UK, and being imperfectly implemented in (well-meaning) hospitals that lack the funds and people to implement it fully and in the shortest possible timeframe.



4.    What does the early evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic say about the impact of poor air quality on health, and health inequalities for disadvantaged communities and other at-risk groups, and possible policy responses?

We have posed this exact question to a number of academics, and have concluded that air pollution has certainly made the health impact of the COVID-19 outbreak more severe:

Air pollution is a global health and social justice issue, already disproportionately affecting the most deprived parts of society.[4] 

a) Air pollution increases susceptibility to coronavirus

Exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause a range of health impacts, including damaging lung function, triggering asthma, increasing blood pressure, and increasing lung and heart related hospital admissions and deaths.[5] [6] Long-term exposure to air pollution can cause chronic heart and lung conditions such as coronary heart disease and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) as well as lung cancer, leading to reduced life expectancy.[7] [8] [9] The poorest communities suffer the worst air pollution, but contribute least to the problem.6

‘People who have been living in places that are more polluted. . . are more likely to die from coronavirus.’ - AARON BERNSTEIN, HARVARD CHAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Air pollution can cause or contribute to many of the underlying health conditions -such as COPD and heart disease- that put people at higher risk of having more severe symptoms, complications and/or death from COVID-19.[10]

One meta study found that patients with severe COVID-19 were twice as likely to have pre-existing respiratory diseases and three times as likely to have had cardiovascular problems[11] while ONS data suggests that with nine out of ten deaths from COVID-19, people had at least one pre-existing condition.[12]

Studies from the UK, Europe and the US suggest that people living in areas of higher air pollution have an increased risk of dying from COVID-19,[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] however, these studies are awaiting peer-review and so the link cannot be confirmed. One study that has been peer reviewed, similarly indicates that an increase in people’s long-term exposure to PM2.5 is associated with more COVID-19 cases, more hospital admissions and more deaths, as one of several risk factors for diseases leading to susceptibility.[18]

      Key message: There is a detrimental link between the health outcomes of COVID-19 cases and air pollution: Air pollution can cause health conditions that increase the risks of complications and death from COVID-19.

While the evidence is emerging on the links between COVID-19 and air pollution, peer-reviewed studies from another coronavirus infection - the 2003 SARS outbreak - found that patients from highly polluted regions were twice as likely to die of SARS compared to patients from less polluted areas.[19] And a mapping study of the 1918 Spanish influenza in 183 American cities suggested that air pollution exacerbated all-age mortality during the pandemic.[20]

It therefore seems likely that by causing or worsening underlying health conditions, air pollution makes people more susceptible to COVID-19 complications and death, with Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups and deprived areas affected disproportionately.[21]  

Inequality, COVID-19 and air pollution

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has been indiscriminate. Nevertheless, its impact has undoubtedly been heavier for certain demographic and socio-economic groups.

COVID-19 patients in the most deprived regions are twice as likely to die from the disease. 23

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are also disproportionately affected by COVID-19, accounting for 34% of all critical ill COVID-19 patients nationally, despite constituting 14% of the population.[22]  Adjusting for sex, age, deprivation and area, there is a 10-50% higher mortality and diagnosis rate of COVID-19 among BAME groups compared to White ethnic groups.23

While research into this disparity is on-going, evidence is starting to suggest a link to air pollution and housing standards, as those living in deprived areas and those from BAME communities are more likely to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution.[23]

b) Exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to contracting COVID-19

The link between high air pollution and vulnerability to contracting respiratory infections is well documented[24] [25] - air pollution increases your chances of contracting influenza.[26] [27] [28] [29] It may also be the case that air pollution increases your chances of contracting COVID-19.

Emerging evidence postulates that particulate matter air pollution (from domestic burning, road transport and industry) increases levels of the receptors on cells to which COVID-19 attaches.[30] [31] It is suggested that exposure to high levels of particulate pollution therefore increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.33 32  However, this cannot yet be concluded with confidence as the research is not yet peer reviewed.

      Key message: Emerging research suggests that air pollution could increase vulnerability to COVID-19 infection.

c) The possible health benefits of air pollution improvements during lockdown

In 2020 we will all experience a reduction in our annual exposure to air pollution, because of the reduction in pollution levels during the COVID-19 lockdown (see section 1.2 below).  It is estimated that in the UK the annual average personal exposure to NO2 may reduce by 5-24% this year, and by 18 – 27% for children, tube users, professional drivers and hospital staff.  Being exposed to less air pollution is likely to have benefits for our health.

d) COVID-19 recovery and air pollution 

Research undertaken by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation of over 800 people who had been in hospital with COVID-19 found that people’s physical and mental health had been affected. 83% of people surveyed, who had not previously had breathing difficulties, experienced new breathing problems after COVID-19.[32] As air pollution is well known to exacerbate breathing difficulties, it could be a detrimental factor in people’s COVID-19 recovery.

The International Monetary Fund predicts that coronavirus will have the worst economic impact on the poorer and moat vulnerable parts of society, increasing inequality in earning capacity and reducing employment prospects for those with a basic education only[33].


5. What are the current and emerging risks and opportunities for air quality posed by

a) Short-term policy and societal changes in response to the pandemic, for example changes to transport to reduce the risk of transmission


A. COVID-19 increased public demand for government action on air pollution

Global Action Plan has recently published the Build Back Cleaner Air report which details the imperative for action on air pollution, heightened by the COVID-19 crisis, and the enhanced opportunities to act on air pollution.

Free Download here https://www.globalactionplan.org.uk/build-back-cleaner-air

It is essential but also possible to reduce air pollution substantially.  During the nadir of the COVID-19 lockdown, one of the few silver linings was the improvement in air quality.  People were literally waking up and smelling the difference, as average levels of nitrogen dioxide across the UK dropped by 20 to 30 percent, even falling by half in some urban areas.  This improvement in air quality has primarily come from the reduction in private car use, as during lockdown the number of vehicles on our roads dropped by 70 percent.

This improvement was felt even more profoundly by those with asthma or other respiratory conditions.  Many also appreciated the quieter streets that were more welcoming for cycling and walking, and more conducive for social interactions such as talking to the neighbour over the street.   Our research found that people do not want air pollution levels to rise again, as they are concerned about the impacts on their or their family’s health.  The vast majority of people think that clean air is now even more important because coronavirus can affect people’s lungs.  There is a clear mandate from the public to act on air pollution because of COVID-19.

During this crisis, people have realised that air pollution is not a fact of life but is something that we can change.  The COVID-19 lockdown saw millions of people changing their routines in a way that reduces air pollution. During lockdown people left their cars to gather cobwebs, and instead we saw levels of cycling and walking increase, cycling by approximately a third on weekdays and over 100 percent on weekends.  There was also an unprecedented shift to working from home, with 40 percent of people attempting to work from home during the COVID-19 lockdown.  Almost half of people working from home did so for the first time, with most feeling that they are just as able to work at home as in the office, and many reporting benefits, such as not having to deal with rush hour.  Moments of change like this rarely come along, and we must seize on this opportunity to help make these lower pollution habits stick. 

We know that cleaner air is possible, and we know what it takes to cut air pollution.  We also know that people appreciate clean air and want to keep air pollution levels low.  This gives a clear mandate to government to act more urgently and more radically to tackle air pollution, and we know that people can and are willing to change their habits to improve air quality. 

People are willing to play their part in a clean air future by continuing to walk and cycle instead of drive, continuing to work from home, and to make changes to their shopping habits by waiting longer for deliveries.  However, in order to do so people also call on businesses and government to take steps to make these behaviours easier, and to invest in plans to tackle air pollution and traffic more urgently than before the outbreak of coronavirus.


Like previous crises have shaped the way we live (think of the building of our sewage system in response to cholera) this is our opportunity to change the air we breathe for the better forever.


As part of this research we undertook a polling exercise, with the following important findings:


Commissioners: Global Action Plan. Funders: Guys and St Thomas’ Charity. Survey: Opinium

Survey details: 2,002 UK adults representative of the population, 7th-11th May. Full survey data available from Global Action Plan on request: email cleanerair@globalactionplan.org.uk


  1. Clean air is more important to people than ever before







  1. The reduced traffic and pollution has been experienced widely






  1. People crave government and business action on air pollution

People want to see the government, local authorities and business invest in plans to tackle air pollution and traffic more urgently than before the outbreak of coronavirus








  1. People are planning changes that could assist air quality






  1. People believe a clean air future is possible!




Pollution from driving: Based on further surveying during the lockdown period we have also identified a strong desire to end the proliferation of polluting motor vehicles and to have a radical shift toward zero emission vehicles:



Based on this public desire for action, the people’s government will likely find majority support for such measures as:

  1. Strong regulation of car companies to force them to sell many more cars that don’t cause exhaust gases and are affordable, whilst minimising sales of SUVs
  2. Guarantee that the UK’s air quality standards will be at least as good as Europe’s when we leave the current EU rules at the end of December
  3. Ensure the entire government-run fleet of vehicles (and sub-contracted fleets) are zero tail-pipe pollution within a very short period of time (such as 5 years)
  4. Outlaw the building of depots and industrial sites near to schools and hospitals
  5. Close roads to all but essential traffic outside schools to make them safer and less polluted for children
  6. Call in the £27bn road building programme for review, to determine if there would be better value spent in aiding active travel



B. Remote Working: Once in a generation chance to cut unnecessary driving

Global Action Plan commissioned Opinium to survey the working habits of 2,002 UK adults representative of the population in the first week of May 2020. This survey identified that there has been a significant swing to home working under lock down, and people believe a long term increase in home working could persist.


This shift could potentially eliminate 11bn miles of driving.


Six out of ten employees say they have been working from home at least some of the time during lockdown, and 45% of these home-workers didn’t work remotely at all before the lockdown. Almost half of these new remote workers (49%) said that their employer “didn’t allow” them to work remotely before the lockdown, but the vast majority (87%) of those remote working during lockdown want to keep it as a part of their working lives.


In real terms this equates to 8.7m employees working remotely for the first time during the lockdown. In total 19.5m employees worked without travelling during the lockdown, of which 10.8m had worked from home at least partly before the lockdown travelling. As 87% wanted to keep remote working to some degree post-lockdown, we could have a regular 17m remote-workers post-lockdown versus just 10.8m pre-lockdown.


This enforced experiment in working from home has proven that significantly more work could be done remotely – from home or a local work hub – which could reduce the amount of travel people do for work. The last National Travel Survey found that people drove 63 billion miles in a year in the UK for their commute or to make a visit for a work purpose.


Based on employee preference for full or part remote working, we estimated how many days of working could be completed without any travel. Importantly, we accounted for human and business needs, acknowledging that most employees want to physically meet up with their colleagues at least once a week. The scenario assumes no increase in how many people work from home every day, and no change for people who didn’t work from home at all during the lockdown. We have therefore assumed a realistic level of home working that is less radical than the extremely low level seen during lockdown. We estimate that 18% of journeys completed for a work purpose – just shy of 1 in 5 – could be reduced compared to pre-lockdown levels.


This reduction of 18% of journeys for work purposes was then used to calculate a reduction in miles driven for work purposes against the National Travel Survey. Reducing 18% of the 63 billion miles of car driving completed for a work purpose each year in the UK would see a reduction of 11.3 billion miles of car driving, and an associated reduction in carbon emissions of approximately 3.3m tCO2e.


For comparison, the carbon emissions of all the aviation fuel delivered to Luton Airport every year totals 1.3m tCO2. Therefore, remote working could have more than twice the benefit of making Luton Airport entirely zero carbon.


Calculating the benefit to air quality is much more complicated. We could use emissions factors of the average vehicle to calculate the emissions of pollution that would be eliminated by not driving 11.3bn miles, but this would be a gross underestimate as one of the major factors in heightened pollution is congestion and traffic flow, and the location of the traffic. As the driving avoided is the commute, the real impact will be much more beneficial than the emissions saved per mile as the traffic flow would dramatically increase if 1 in 5 cars was removed from the road at rush hour.


As public transport capacity returns, a long-term reduction in driving is entirely feasible.

If driving is substantially reduced, especially at peak hours, air pollution will improve significantly. An urgent modelling exercise should be commissioned by DfT to explore the potential benefit of eliminating 1 in 5 commuter car journeys, and the ways that the government can facilitate this national shift in working practices.

As a result, the £27bn UK road building programme should be reviewed. If eliminating car journeys can reduce pressure on the road network, the economic case for road building will certainly change, and the money could perhaps be better spent elsewhere, such as on enhanced broadband and supporting active travel.




5b) Medium and long-term actions to promote economic recovery.

A. Accelerating the transition to electric vehicles

As already explained above, it is clear that the major vehicle manufacturers and market have failed in bringing a rapid transition to clean mobility. The following information summarises the opportunity for rapid transition with a thorough assessment of driving habits which shows that millions of the UK’s car fleet could already be fully electric with only upsides to lifestyles and no issues such as battery range or charging infrastructure.


The following evidence of a major opportunity draws on evidence from two sources:


Approximately 1 in 6 cars are used in ways that are entirely suited to being fully electric. Families would prefer to have cars that cause no exhaust gases, but car companies continue to predominantly service these families with petrol and diesel vehicles.


Our new research has identified that a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) with the limited capability of the 2010 model Nissan Leaf would be an ideal car for millions of British families.


We embraced the spirit of automotive pioneer Henry Ford to explore why the ZEV revolution hasn’t happened yet. Whether or not Henry Ford actually said, “if I asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse”, that attitude is vital when looking to make a major transition from ICE to ZEV. Ford looked at what technology would be better for his potential customers, rather than just selling them what they said they wanted.


In this instance “better” means, being able to run a family car without a polluting exhaust and without any detriment to their lifestyles, like excessive stops when driving to recharge, or leaving the car far from home to charge it up overnight.


Our survey of households with two cars and a child under the age of 18 found that:

a)      87% of these households have access to sufficient and secure off-road parking, providing a place to charge an EV


b)      Most second cars travel less than the distance that a single charge of a 10-year old Nissan Leaf could cover[41].


c)       84% of these households report that if their second car were somehow limited to 50 miles per journey, they could still achieve all of their households’ long-distance journeys through another car in the household.


d)      But 97% of these second cars are not electric.


We can therefore conclude that there are very many two-car households which are perfect for adopting an electric car as the second car – no matter what drivers currently say about their appetite for driving an electric car.


59% of two-car families have a fossil-fuel powered second car that is entirely suited to being fully electric with a low battery range because:


If all two-car households across Britain have the same breakdown (our sample was specifically two-car households with a child), approximately 5.7 million more cars could be fully electric with no downsides to lifestyles[42] that are often used as objections to ZEVs (such as wanting to drive to Cornwall on a summer holiday). In fact, life would be better with time wasted on trips to the petrol station a thing of the past for these second cars.


Converting these 5.7 million cars would increase ZEVs on the road by 57 times above the current levels and remove 1 in 6 fossil-fuel powered cars currently on the road.


So, what has gone wrong? If 5.7 million households are entirely suited to having one ZEV, and the necessary technology (a 2010 Nissan Leaf) has been around for a decade, why are there still only 0.1m ZEVs on the road? It appears that car makers have been very happy to continue to sell ICE vehicles to these households over the last decade, and slow to follow the Henry Ford approach. We see further evidence in the way that the major manufacturers act:


But what if car makers were really on a mission to replace ICE vehicles with ZEVs as quickly as possible? This second-car market feels open to radical Henry Ford thinking. They may explore:



This suggests we might have the opposite to the Henry Ford problem – people actually want radically different vehicles but are not getting them.



Our charity operates for a year on one tenth of the money car manufacturers have spent on making one advert[44]. If our short project can find one segment of the national car fleet that is ripe for electrification, major manufacturers cannot be blind to the opportunity. Yet, they persist in selling petrol and diesel cars as parents’ run-around town cars when a ten-year old EV would do the job and parents are calling out for non-polluting vehicles.


Our only conclusion can be that only strong regulation will get major manufacturers on the mission of substituting ICE vehicles with ZEVs. The UK government must regulate for a reduction in ICE vehicle sales, a reduction in SUV sales and a radical increase in ZEV sales.


It is important that DfT policymaking is based on driver needs not opinions


Our study described earlier has shown that ZEVs are the best solution for the second car in 5.7 million households, whether or not the drivers currently understand or believe ZEVs to be the right solution. We are not advocating ignoring consumer choice, nor do we ignore that car companies currently price ZEVs higher than ICE. But we know that moving to ZEVs is vital for society, and so we must accept that changing the minds of consumers and overcoming the cost issue are essential actions.


A related truth is that consumers are influenced by billions of dollars of advertising by major car manufacturers, which primarily advertises ICE vehicles. The message of these adverts is the exact opposite of the Henry Ford approach to make and sell the new solution and convince people they need it. Major manufacturers are revving up people’s desire for more of the same – but bigger and more powerful – hence the rise in SUV sales. In equivalence to the Henry Ford language, the major manufacturers are currently telling customers,


“You could get a new horse! We can make you a bigger, faster horse than you ever imagined you could afford! (No need to worry about the crap that comes out the back)”.


Policymakers should not base the future transition rate to ZEVs on today’s heavily influenced view that drivers have about ZEVs, which are replete with myths.


Also, students have been exploring the actual running standard of their family cars. When investigating the TRUE rating[45] of 105 cars, students discovered that one third rated Poor, indicating that they had NOx emissions over 180mg/km in a wide range of driving conditions. A Euro 3 petrol car (or newer) or Euro 5 diesel (or newer) should meet these standards, but they don’t meet the standard in the real world tests. It is understandable that parents can feel a lack of trust in the manufacturers. They were sold cars that supposedly met emission standards but don’t when the family actually drives them. It is therefore unsurprising that four in ten revealed that they don’t trust manufacturers to put people’s health and wellbeing ahead of profits in our recent two-car family survey.



Making policy based on driver’s current opinions when bombarded by $billions of advertising is like asking a focus group of children in an ice cream factory to set dietary standards for childhood nutrition.


We therefore make two recommendations about the future opportunity to minimise pollution for the government:

Assess how well ZEVs actually fit with people’s driving patterns when evaluating how quickly the UK can transition from ICE vehicles and don’t buy in to the idea that ZEVs will only become mainstream when they can do 300 miles on a single charge

Tackle any false advertising about ZEVs and establish quotas for percentage of advertising spent on ZEVs vs ICE vehicles


B. New models in car ownership

Our two-car family survey revealed that car ownership can be stressful, expensive and a burden; 45% feel stressed about leaving (one or more of) their cars on the road or in public places in case they get broken into or stolen and 53% say the maintenance of their car(s) such as cleaning, servicing, occasional repair and insurance renewals are a burden.


It is therefore unsurprising that 43% say if they could “have a car to drive whenever they need it, but without having to own it, maintain it and insure it, and at no extra cost than my current car costs”, they would prefer that option. Additionally, in our May 2020 lockdown survey, 26% of all drivers responded that they would like to use their car less.

What this research highlights is that people’s lives and attitudes align much more closely with the idea of having a car to use when needed, but not actually owning it. This is the essence of car-clubs, which are currently hugely under-utilised as a way to reduce pollution. People using car clubs tend to use the car less as a whole, and do more cycling and riding public transport than the average car owner.

In London, where better access to public transport decreases the need for a private vehicle further, car clubs have already removed 25,000 private vehicles from the road[46]. It is anticipated that across the UK one car-club car can remove 20 private cars from the road[47]. If one car could do the job of 20 cars in the current typical model of ownership, that makes transitioning to fully electric vehicles all the easier as one ZEV could replace 20 ICE vehicles.

Shifting away from vehicle ownership to a shared model would reduce the volume of ZEV cars needed to offer clean mobility to all. It also eases the charging infrastructure burden, overcomes the ZEV purchase price problem and encourages people to travel using other modes of transport or avoid travelling altogether. We recommend support for alternatives to private car ownership are considered as sister policies alongside regulation for ZEVs.



[1] Department for Transport Statistics, Table VEH0253 https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/vehicles-statistics

[2] DVLA car registrations data

[3] European Environment Agency, Average CO2 emissions from new cars and new vans increased again in 2019 https://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/average-co2-emissions-from-new-cars-vans-2019

[4] Air Quality and Social Deprivation in the UK: an environmental inequalities analysis – Final Report to Defra, June 2006.

[5] Public Health England, Guidance, “Health matters: air pollution.” last modified November 2018. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-matters-air-pollution/health-matters-air-pollution [Accessed 14.07.20]

[6] Yang, Bo-Yi, et al. “Global association between ambient air pollution and blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Environmental pollution 235 (2018): 576-588.

[7] Doiron et al. “Air pollution, lung function and COPD: results from the population-based UK Biobank study. European Respiratory Journal 54.1 (2019)

[8] Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, “Long-Term Exposure to Air Pollution: Effect on Mortality” June 2009

[9] RCP & RCPCH, “Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution” February 2016

[10] Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, Statement – Older people are at highest risk from COVID-19, but all must act to prevent community spread, April 2020, Available from: https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/statements/statement-older-people-are-at-highest-risk-from-covid-19,-but-all-must-act-to-prevent-community-spread. [Accessed 14.07.20]

[11] Yang et al. “Prevalence of comorbidities and its effects in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” International Journal of Infectious Diseases 94 (2020): 91-95.

[12] ONS, Deaths involving COVID-19, England and Wales: deaths occurring in April 2020. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsinvolvingcovid19englandandwales/deathsoccurringinapril2020. [Accessed 14.07.20]

[13] Travaglio et al. “Links between air pollution and COVID-19 in England.” medRxiv (2020).

[14] Conticini, Edoardo, Bruno Frediani, and Dario Caro. “Can atmospheric pollution be considered a co-factor in extremely high level of SARS-CoV-2 lethality in Northern Italy?.” Environmental pollution (2020): 114465.

[15] Ogen. “Assessing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels as a contributing factor to the coronavirus (COVID-19) fatality rate.” Science of The Total Environment (2020): 138605.

[16]Wu, Xiao, et al. “Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States.” medRxiv (2020).

[17] Travaglio, Marco, et al. Links between air pollution and COVID-19 in England. medRxiv (2020).

[18]Cole, Matthew A. and Ozgen, Ceren and Strobl, Eric, Air Pollution Exposure and COVID-19. IZA Discussion Paper No. 13367, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3628242 .

[19] Cui, Yan, et al. "Air pollution and case fatality of SARS in the People's Republic of China: an ecologic study." Environmental Health 2.1 (2003): 1-5.

[20] Clay, Karen, Joshua Lewis, and Edson Severnini. "Pollution, infectious disease, and mortality: evidence from the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic." The Journal of Economic History 78.4 (2018): 1179-1209.

[21] ONS, “Deaths involving COVID-19 by local area and socioeconomic deprivation: deaths occurring between 1 March and 31 May 2020.” Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsinvolvingcovid19bylocalareasanddeprivation/deathsoccurringbetween1marchand31may2020. [Accessed 14.07.20]


[22] ICNARC report on COVID-19 in critical care https://www.icnarc.org/DataServices/Attachments/Download/76a7364b-4b76-ea11-9124-00505601089b [Accessed 23.07.20]

[23] Soltan, Marina et al. To what extent are social determinants of health, including household overcrowding, air pollution and housing quality deprivation, modulators of presentation, ITU admission and outcomes among patients with SARS-COV-2 infection in an urban catchment area in Birmingham, United Kingdom?In Review

[24] Hodges, Elizabeth, and Veronica Tomcej. "Is there a link between pollutant exposure and emerging infectious disease?" The Canadian Veterinary Journal 57.5 (2016): 535.

[25] Wong, Tze Wai, et al. "Air pollution and hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases in Hong Kong." Occupational and environmental medicine 56.10 (1999): 679-683.

[26] Singer, Gregor, et al. "Air Pollution Increases Influenza Hospitalizations." medRxiv (2020).

[27] Noah, Terry L., et al. "Diesel exhaust exposure and nasal response to attenuated influenza in normal and allergic volunteers." American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine 185.2 (2012): 179-185.

[28] Su, Wei, et al. "The short-term effects of air pollutants on influenza-like illness in Jinan, China." BMC public health 19.1 (2019): 1-12.

[29] Croft, Daniel P., et al. "The association between respiratory infection and air pollution in the setting of air quality policy and economic change." Annals of the American Thoracic Society 16.3 (2019): 321-330.

[30] Miyashita, Lisa, et al. "Traffic-derived particulate matter and angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 expression in human airway epithelial cells." bioRxiv (2020).

[31] Frontera, Antonio, et al. "Severe air pollution links to higher mortality in COVID-19 patients: the “double-hit” hypothesis." Journal of Infection (2020).

[32] “We have been totally abandoned people left struggling for weeks as they recover from COVID at home” 26 June 2020. Available from: https://www.blf.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/%E2%80%9Cwe-have-been-totally-abandoned%E2%80%9D-people-left-struggling-for-weeks-as. [Accessed 14.07.20]

[33] International Monetary Fund, “How pandemics leave the poor even farther behind” https://blogs.imf.org/2020/05/11/how-pandemics-leave-the-poor-even-farther-behind/ [Assessed 23.07.20]

[34] GAP survey 1,004 two car families with children, June 2020

[35] GAP survey 1,004 two car families with children, June 2020

[36] GAP survey 1,004 two car families with children, June 2020

[37] GAP survey 1,004 two car families with children, June 2020

[38] GAP survey 1,004 two car families with children, June 2020

[39] Global Action Plan’s CAPIT survey June 2020

[40] Global Action Plan’s CAPIT survey June 2020

[41] Fully Charged Show host Robert Llewellyn reports his 2011 model Nissan Leaf performing 45-55 miles per charge after 65,000 miles of driving

[42] Incorporates household data from ONS and car registrations data from DVLA

[43] Zenith Media advertising spend tracker

[44] Chrysler reportedly spent $12m on making one advert with Eminem (not including buying the air time!)

[45] https://www.trueinitiative.org/true-rating

[46] Air Quality News, Car sharing clubs ‘take 25,000 cars off London roads’, https://airqualitynews.com/2016/04/26/car-sharing-clubs-take-25000-cars-off-london-roads/

[47] Sustrans, Car clubs and car-sharing https://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/get-active/2019/everyday-walking-and-cycling/car-clubs-and-car-sharing/