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Clean Air Champions announced


Clean Air Champions appointed to spearhead major programme tackling air pollution

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Met Office have launched an ambitious new programme to improve air quality and reduce its health impacts in the UK with the announcement of three Clean Air Champions.

The Champions will bring together the UK’s world-class air quality research base to develop practical solutions for air quality issues, as part of the Strategic Priorities Fund Clean Air programme.

The Champions, announced on 20 June, Clean Air Day, are:

  • Professor Stephen Holgate, Medical Research Council Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton
  • Professor Martin Williams, Head of Science Policy and Epidemiology team at King’s College London and former Head of the Air Quality programme at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Dr Jenny Baverstock, Senior Collaboration Fellow at the University of Southampton.

In a joint statement, the newly-appointed Clean Air Champions said:

“We are delighted to be chosen as the UKRI Clean Air Champions. Recognising that atmospheric pollution in the UK is responsible for around 40,000 early deaths and costs of about £20 billion a year to health services and business, our role is to be thought leaders, flag bearers, and strategy owners for the new Clean Air programme. We will bring together outstanding researchers in atmospheric, medical and social science in joined-up thinking and ground-breaking solutions to help create a sound health-based policy, innovative business and trusted public information for the benefit of current and future generations.”

The Clean Air programme aims to develop solutions to air pollution to help policymakers and businesses protect health and work towards a cleaner economy. The programme is a £19.6 million collaboration funded under the Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF), involving multiple workstreams managed by organisations within UKRI and the Met Office.

In addition to the appointment of the Champions, major activities that will take place under the SPF Clean Air programme have been announced.

These include the launch of five new research projects. They will develop improved tools and technologies for measuring and predicting emissions, investigate the factors underlying individual exposure to pollution and disease, and develop methods to understand how a broad range of policy changes might affect air quality.

Professor Duncan Wingham, who is co-leading the programme through his role as Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), said:

“The Clean Air projects will create the foundation for interdisciplinary research to understand and tackle air quality issues, drawing on the existing strengths of the UK’s world-class research base. This is a timely programme that will enhance our capability to respond to current and future threats to public health and build a more resilient, cleaner economy”

Professor Stephen Belcher, Met Office Chief Scientist and co-lead for the Clean Air programme, said: “The impact of poor air quality is one of the most important environmental risks to health in the UK. Finding solutions to this problem requires experts from a broad range of disciplines and the Clean Air programme provides an opportunity for the first time in the UK to bring these experts together. The Met Office’s expertise in simulating weather and climate means that it is well-placed to play a central role in this work.”

The Met Office will fund multi-discipline research using experts from across the UK to deliver a Clean Air Framework, which facilitates traceable end-to-end analysis of air-quality health impacts to support policy and community action.  

As part of the programme, Innovate UK is also running a funding competition to mobilise the UK’s most innovative businesses to find solutions to important but less conspicuous causes of pollution. These sources include the release of particles and micro-plastics from wear on tyres, brakes and road surfaces, the engines that operate vehicles used on construction sites and the refrigeration units on chilled delivery vehicles.

Defra is a key Government stakeholder and co-funder for one of the projects, QUANT, which aims to enhance the capabilities of low-cost air pollution sensors using cloud-based storage and processing. Defra will help to align the strands of activity in sensor and modelling work with an aim to understanding the use of new technologies and techniques in pollutant monitoring from a regulatory and wider perspective.

These are the first activities commissioned under the programme with further funding opportunities expected. The SPF Clean Air programme is led by NERC and the Met Office, in partnership with four other organisations within UK Research and Innovation (the Economic and Social Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Innovate UK and MRC), the National Physical Laboratory and Defra. It is supported by the Department for Transport and the Department for Health and Social Care.

Notes to editors

Summaries of projects under Clean Air programme:

OSCA: Integrated Research Observation System for Clean Air

Led by: Professor Hugh Coe, University of Manchester

Project partners: University of Manchester, University of Birmingham, Kings College London, University of Cambridge, University of York, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, NCAS, University of Edinburgh.

Changes to transport systems, energy supplies, solvent use, methods for heating homes and agricultural systems are likely to cause profound changes in the emissions of air pollutants in the near future. The OSCA project will provide new capability to predict future changes in the sources, emissions and atmospheric processes responsible for air pollution, providing robust evidence for air quality policies as well as data and infrastructure for the wider Clean Air Programme. Long term measurements will be carried out at 3 new air quality supersites, and a call will be announced for UK science teams to use the sites during intensive observation periods to augment the continuous data sets.

APEx: An Air Pollution Exposure model to integrate protection of vulnerable groups into the UK Clean Air Programme

Led by: Dr Ben Barratt, King’s College London

Project partners: King’s College London, University of Reading, University of Edinburgh, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, University of Birmingham, University College London

Current methods for assessing the impact of clean air policies are entirely based on outdoor air quality, without considering human behaviours or susceptibility. This study will place people at the centre of the problem by creating an exposure model that more accurately reflects the air that people breathe as they interact with the city. The tool will be used to instigate new solutions to protect the health of vulnerable groups, allow the refinement of existing solutions to increase impact and reduce unintended consequences.

DREaM: Component-Specific Air pollutant Drivers of Disease Risk in Early to Midlife: a pathway approach.

Led by: Dr Ian Mudway, King’s College London

Project partners: King’s College London, Imperial College London, Durham University, University of Cambridge

High pollutant concentrations are linked to a range of long-term adverse health effects, and it is thought that as well as aggravating symptoms, air pollution may contribute to the development of disease. DREaM will identify the ways in which the components in the air pollution mix affect people’s vulnerability to cardiovascular disease and the causal mechanisms behind this, by examining DNA modifications in key genes associated with air pollution. The findings will help to develop targeted mitigation actions and communication strategies to help people understand the risks to health.

QUANT: Quantification of Utility of Atmospheric Network Technologies. Dr Peter Edwards, University of York

Led by: Dr Peter Edwards, University of York, National Centre for Atmospheric Science

Project partners: University of York, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, Cranfield University, University of Birmingham, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, University of Cambridge

Low-cost air pollution sensors could play a vital role in improving air quality, but a deeper understanding of their performance is required to realise their full potential. This project will directly address this challenge through the delivery of a real-world open and traceable assessment of low-cost sensors and sensor networks, including calibration methods, and provide key information on the use of low-cost sensors for tackling air pollution in the UK. The project will also enhance the value of low-cost sensor data for specific UK air quality challenges through the development of novel methods that use the unique strengths of these devices to extract new information on key pollutants.

ANTICIPATE: Actively anticipating the unintended consequences on air quality of future public policies

Led by: Professor Nigel Gilbert, University of Surrey

Project partners: University of Surrey, University College London, University of Birmingham, University of York, National Centre for Atmospheric Science

UK public policies can have significant environmental, economic, social and political consequences over both near and distant timescales, but the full range of impacts are not always thoroughly considered at the appraisal stage. ANTICIPATE will improve awareness of the positive and negative consequences outside the core areas of intended impact, working on four policies selected from the UK Industrial Strategy, Clean Growth Strategy, 25 Year Environment Plan and the NHS Long Term Plan. Expert workshops will explore the policy proposals and their potential impacts on air quality in depth, identifying previously unremarked or under-emphasised implications. An evaluation of the effectiveness of this process will be used to develop recommendations about how to identify the unanticipated consequences of future public policies at the design stage, and thus contribute to more robust and resilient policy making.

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