Every January, we look at air pollution data for the previous year to find the most polluted streets, and this year we have some good news: Scotland did not breach legal air pollution limits in 2022.

This is the first time it has done so since the limit was brought in in 2010 (excluding 2020 which was an outlier due to the impact of lockdowns).

This improvement in air quality is a clear sign that the low emission zones are already working, and three out of four of them haven’t even properly started. Of course this does not mean that the air pollution problem is solved – many streets are just below the legal limit, and some did get worse in 2022 – but it’s a positive step.

Low Emission Zones help clear the air

In Glasgow, where we saw the biggest improvement the low emission zone began in 2019, annually restricting more and more polluting buses. Now every bus going through the city centre has to meet the minimum emission standard, with private cars to follow in June this year. To support bus operators to meet the criteria, the Scottish Government has provided grants for buying new buses or retrofitting older buses. 

In Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen, the low emission zones will come into effect in June of this year, but bus companies have already begun to update their vehicles with the grant money, so we’re already starting to see some improvements.

Unfortunately in Perth and Inverness, where low emission zones aren’t planned, we’ve not seen any improvement, and in some places it’s even got worse – so it’s clear that they really make an impact and that councils across Scotland should be considering them for any polluted areas.

Which streets are the most polluted?

We analysed official air pollution data for 2022, looking at two toxic pollutants which are primarily produced by transport, and these were the most polluted streets.

Air pollution from transport is responsible for thousands of premature deaths in Scotland every year, and causes serious heart and lung issues. There’s also growing evidence of the impact of air pollution on our brains, and recent studies have linked it with dementia.

When it comes to air pollution, we know what works. We need to take control of our public transport to run comprehensive services that serve passengers not profit, and more options for safe walking and cycling, to improve the air we breathe permanently.