During November Green-Schools Travel ran their third annual Clean Air Week. The campaign ran from November 15-19th in timing with The European Commission’s third EU Clean Air Forum. Green-Schools sought to engage schools with an digital Clean Air Week campaign, which aimed to raise awareness of air pollution and to engender schools to take action to reduce air pollution at the school gate. Students and individuals around the country made pledges to #BeatAirPollution by walking, cycling, and scooting to school as well as committing to running clean air-focused campaigns.
Four schools were acknowledged for their exceptional participation during the week-long campaign; Congratulations – prizes are on their way to you soon!
- St. Laurence’s National School, Greystones, Wicklow
- Ballina Primary School, Ballina, Tipperary
- St. Paul’s National School, Athlone, Westmeath
- Esker ETNS, Lucan, Dublin
Students at St. Laurence’s National School in Wicklow, worked throughout the week on a clean air-focused awareness campaign to #BeatAirPollution. As well as their initiative to increase active travel such as walking, cycling and scooting to school, students undertook a survey to assess how many cars were idling their engines while waiting at the school gate. Their results showed that 81% of stationary cars were running their engines at the front of the school.
Students at St. Paul’s National School in Westmeath took a civic action approach to focus on a no idling campaign. The highlight of their success is that they now have an agreement with their bus driver who is committing to switching off the school bus engine at drop-offs and pick-ups.
Students at Ballina Primary School in Tipperary worked on an extensive ‘What is wrong with our Air project’, which was displayed on their Green-Schools noticeboard.
Esker ETNS students in Dublin took the approach to engage parents with their no idling campaign. Together, parents and students took no idling pledges to help #BeatAirPollution at the school gate.
The right of citizens to breathe clean air provoked much scrutiny across the many environmental agendas which were ongoing during the month of November.
- Global leaders and politicians met at COP26 to commit to new climate targets and pledge what measures they will take to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and beyond.
- Leaders from the European Commission met at their third EU Clean Air Forum where they deliberated on the development and implementation of effective European, national and local air policies, projects and programmes.
- Whilst here in Ireland and in timing with Clean Air Week 2021 the release of the and The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a bill to ban car ‘idling’ outside schools has been put forward.
During “transport day” at the COP26, a new declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero-emission vehicles was announced. The declaration is not legally binding, but rather an agreement between the coalition of countries, cities and car manufacturers to “work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission… globally by 2040 and by no later than 2035 in leading markets”. However, leading global car manufacturers’ Germany, China and the US have not yet committed to the agreement. These commitments still lack the necessary changes which need to be made in fostering a modal shift away from car use and providing for active travel.
European Commission and the EU Clean Air Forum
In November the European Environment Agency published a study which found that more than 360,000 people in European Union died prematurely in 2019 due to exposure to poor air quality. Whilst this figure is startlingly high, it does mark a decrease in deaths related to air pollution since the year 2005. This downward trend shows that together through individual action and the delivery of effective clean air policies, we can #BeatAirPollution. Nevertheless, every citizen should be entitled to breathe quality, clean air, with the study pointing to the fact that more than half of these deaths could have been avoided if EU Member States had reached the WHO’s new air quality guideline level of 5 µg/m3. One of the key messages deliberated at the EU Clean Air Forum, was that:
Educating civil society on the importance of clean air is paramount to stimulating the change we need to mitigate the effects of air pollution.
Clean Air in Ireland
Air pollution is the single biggest environmental health risk in Europe. In Ireland, It is estimated that there are approximately 1,3001 premature deaths annually due to poor air quality from fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The EPA has recently published their Air Quality in Ireland 2020 report. The study showed that over all, Ireland was compliant with EU legal limits in 2020 with the exception of 52 monitoring stations whose readings were above the WHO air quality guideline values. The agency highlighted that this compliancy was largely assisted by the lower levels of vehicles on our roads due to the travel restrictions associated with Covid ‐19 lockdowns.
A positive outlook for Clean Air in Ireland
One of the positives we can take from the restrictions associated with Covid-19, was that more people made short journeys by foot or by bike, both for leisure and to simply get from A to B. With less cars on the roads, scenes emerged of families and people, both young and old, getting exercise and enjoying the outdoors. The Central Statistics Office Ireland Census 2022 will take place in April 2022, and we hope to expect that rates of walking and cycling in Ireland will be revealed in the collected data.