According to new data released today by the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 80% of urban citizens are regularly exposed to air pollution levels that exceed the WHO limits, causing more than 3 million premature deaths worldwide every year. This periodic survey of 3,000 cities in 103 countries found that urban populations in low-income countries are most affected.

Whilst the findings are alarming, the good news is that cities are taking major strides to tackle air pollution challenges. Here are five ways that C40 mayors are taking action to deliver cleaner air, improve public health and reduce the risks of climate change. 

1. Restrictions on private motor vehicles:
Cars and taxis in cities are amongst the main sources of pollutants such as sulfate, nitrates and harmful CO2. Stockholm, London and Copenhagen are among the many C40 cities that have introduced Low Emission Zones in their city centres to tackle air pollution in the long term. In addition, when smog reaches dangerous levels, many mayors are taking the bold step to restrict access to thousands or even millions of private vehicles into the city centre.  

In 1992, Mexico City was labelled the world’s most polluted city. Over the past twenty years the city has significantly cut air pollution as well as CO2 emissions, through policies that included restricting access to the city for certain high polluting private vehicles. In March 2016, dangerous levels of air pollution returned to Mexico City. The Mexico City government duly ordered as many as 2 million private cars off the road – nearly 40% of privately-owned vehicles,  

Mayor of Madrid Manuela Carmena recently unveiled a similar scheme to restrict access for cars to the city centre during periods of severe pollution. In December 2015 Mayor Giuliano Pisapia of Milan banned cars, motorcycles and scooters from the city centre for three days. Similar schemes have been seen in New Delhi and Beijing. Just this weekend, on May 8th, the Champs-Elysees in Paris was pedestrianized in an effort by Mayor Anne Hidalgo to tackle air pollution in the city – and reclaim major avenues for civic enjoyment.   

2. Championing low-emission public transport:
Inspired by Curitiba’s trailblazing efforts, today more than 40 cities across the C40 network operate BRT corridors, including Rio de Janeiro, Chicago and Johannesburg. This innovative public transport solution, championed by mayors and spread through the power of knowledge sharing within C40, today carries millions of passengers worldwide who would otherwise be traveling in more polluting vehicles.

In 2015 26 C40 cities signed the C40 Clean Bus Declaration, committing them to improve air quality through the introduction of low and ultimately zero-emission buses in their public transport fleets. Within months the first Clean Bus Summit brought together representatives of cities and bus manufacturers to deliver concrete pledges. The twenty-six cities committed to rolling out over 45,000 low emission buses by 2020, and the collective negotiating power of these cities is driving down the costs at which bus manufacturers are able to manufacture and sell electric busses.  If these 26 cities could switch their entire bus fleet to low emission vehicles, the savings could be 2.8 million tons of GHG per year, the equivalent of taking almost 590,000 cars off the road

3. Urban planning and mobility management
The cities of tomorrow must be compact and well connected with public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure. Mobility management is an approach that seeks to provide a cheaper and quicker way for cities to improve transport capacity, efficiency and accessibility than investing in new infrastructure.  San Francisco, for example, introduced ‘SF Park’, a parking programme with a responsive pricing mechanism, and saw a 50 percent reduction in cruising for parking. These type of smart parking initiatives reduce air pollution created by vehicles searching for parking.

C40 has partnered with MasterCard to connect global megacities in a first-of-its-kind ‘Mobility Management’ network. The partnership will harness MasterCard’s data and expertise in how urban citizens use public transport, in order to support C40 cities in maximising the efficiency of their transport systems and thereby reduce infrastructure investment costs, emissions and air pollution.

4. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through sound measurement and management
C40 provides co-leadership to the Compact of Mayors, a global coalition of mayors and city officials pledging to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change, and track their progress transparently. Thanks to support from the British philanthropy the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) C40 is helping more than 30 C40 cities in the Global South to conduct accurate inventories of their greenhouse gas emissions, set targets and develop action plans. This effort will without a doubt contribute to reducing the air pollution from all sources including construction, aviation and industry in those cities in the years ahead.

5. Mayors are speaking out on behalf of their citizens
Mayors are often directly accountable to their citizens for the success or failure of their policies and see much faster than national politicians the effects of policy change.  Just as mayors have been outspoken on the threat of climate change to their citizens, they are also demanding action from national and international leaders as well as businesses and industry to curb air pollution in their cities.

In March 2016 the mayors of 20 European cities signed a joint letter criticising the European Union for permitting vehicle manufacturers to exceed the emissions limits set by EU legislation. The letter concluded, “We appeal to governments from across Europe to use all the legal and political means in their power to ensure Europe’s air pollution standards are applied consistently across every industry.”

To read a previous blog by Mark Watts on tackling air pollution click here.


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