How air pollution levels changed in 2020

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How we’re changing the weather

We’re committed to raising awareness about air pollution in the UK – it’s why we recently launched our 'Change the Weather' service to help national and regional media to include air quality information1 in their weather forecasts. We’re working with meteorologist, author and broadcaster Clare Nasir to make sure that members of the public know what the Defra Air Quality Index (DAQI)1 means – the index provides daily scores out of 10 for air quality levels, with 10 being the worst air quality.

As a nation we love talking about the weather and often grumble about the wind and the rain. And as part of our 'Change the Weather' service, we’ve analysed the DAQI to uncover annual averages of air pollution in 2020 compared to 2019.

We believe that the more people know about air pollution, the more we can all do to help tackle the issue.

What we can learn from air quality monitoring

Our new analysis2 of air pollution trends shows we have something to thank the typical British weather for. Periods of wet weather during the summer, when combined with lower levels of traffic during national lockdowns, have helped improve the UK’s air quality scores by almost 3% year-on-year.

Our analysis found that the average figure across the UK for 2020 is 2.81 – an improvement of 2.9% on 2019’s average of 2.90. This is even though there have been 498 ‘moderate’ air quality scores recorded this year – a score which means people with lung problems should consider reducing physical activity. There have also been 35 scores of ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of air pollution; levels at which older people and those with lung and heart problems are recommended to avoid strenuous physical activity altogether.

Regionally, our research shows there have been significant improvements over the course of the year, most notably in North East Scotland (18.7% improvement), the Highlands (8.5% improvement) and Yorkshire and Humberside (8.1% improvement). But at the same time, six regions saw a decline in air quality – particularly in North Wales, with a worsening of 9.5%.

Clare Nasir explains what was driving the changes

“There are two reasons for the improvement in air quality in 2020. Firstly, lockdowns have helped a lot as people stayed indoors and the use of polluting means of travel, such as cars and aeroplanes, reduced significantly.

“The other contributing factor is the weather: wind and rain ultimately helped to improve air quality. While the first lockdown coincided with a dry and settled spell across the whole of the UK – which is usually conducive to higher levels of pollution – the period after restrictions were eased coincided with a wet June, and July 2020 was wetter than in 2019.”

“These factors also likely explain the regional variations in the data. Because settled or anticyclonic conditions are conducive to poorer air and the heatwave of August 2020 lasted for longer in the South and Southeast, these areas had a mild decline in air quality. Meanwhile, Scotland saw a greater improvement in air quality with the onset of wet and windy weather from the middle of August. For North Wales, it’s possible that busy roads due to holidaymakers in the summer months contributed to the annual decline in air quality.”

How we can all help clear the air

Knowing more about air pollution is just the first step – our recent ‘Air Care Research’ found that 83% of people would take action to tackle air pollution if they were made more aware about the air they breathe3. And almost two thirds (62%) of people say they miss how clear the air was during the first national lockdown.

It’s why we’re working to put air pollution on the map with our Change the Weather service and we’re proud that several media publications have now included air quality information in their weather forecasts. They include national newspapers such as the i, Evening Standard, Daily Star, Daily Record and The Scotsman, as well as regional and local titles including the Carlisle News & Star, the Yorkshire Evening News and the Dumfries Courier. And we hope many more will follow their lead.

But there’s more we can all do. From choosing 100% renewable electricity for your home or business4 and installing solar panels to driving less, choosing an electric vehicle or saving energy – there are steps that we can all take to reduce our impact on air pollution.

Find out how we’re helping to clear the air and read Clare Nasir’s blog for everything you need to know about air pollution.

1. The Defra Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI) tells you about levels of air pollution and provides recommended actions and health advice. For more information, go to http://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/

2. E.ON analysed the Defra Daily Air Quality Index scores for all 16 regions between 1 January and 17 November in 2019 and 2020.

3. Research conducted by Census wide on behalf of E.ON October 2020 with a survey of 4063 respondents.

4. Electricity backed by 100% renewable sources. All our customers' homes and eligible businesses get 100% renewable electricity, at no extra cost. Eligible businesses are SME customers that sign a contract directly with E.ON. Electricity sourced from E.ON’s renewable generation assets, supply agreements with independent UK wind generators and the purchase of renewable electricity certificates. The electricity supplied to homes and businesses comes from the National Grid and DNOs.