17/11/2016 11:10 GMT | Updated 18/11/2017 05:12 GMT

Children's Lungs Can't Wait Nine Years to Breathe Clean Air

Toxic levels of air pollution are predicted to continue for at least another nine years. In this time, long-term damage will be done to millions of children's lungs. Pollution reduces children's lung growth, it irritates their airways and makes conditions like asthma worse.

At least 3,000 schools in England alone are located within unsafe levels of air pollution. In these areas, children could be growing up with smaller lungs just because of their postcode.

Children with smaller lungs are likely to face health problems in later life. Their lung capacity could affect their ability to exercise, to work or even to socialise. Do we want children growing up beside the Olympic park to one day be an Olympian themselves? Of course we do. Which is why we need to take action now. Children's opportunities and well-being should not be restricted by something which we have the power to change.

Over the last year considerable progress has been made and the government recognises the scale of the problem we face. However current plans will need to go much further to really make a difference. Air pollution has been linked to at least 40,000 early deaths a year. It increases all our risks of getting health conditions like lung cancer. And if the health costs weren't enough, latest estimates suggest that air pollution costs the Treasury £27 billion a year.

At least 37 areas across the UK have unsafe and illegal levels of air pollution. We need to urgently address this. An extensive network of clean air zones would go a huge way to helping. These zones should seek to restrict the most polluting vehicles from the most polluted places. For these zones to be successful they will need to ensure that accessible and affordable alternative transport options are available. Given that children and older people are disproportionately impacted by air pollution, solutions should be tailored to protect these groups. This is a huge opportunity to transform our urban areas from threats to sanctuaries.

Our air pollution problem largely stems from traffic emissions, particularly emissions from diesel. To tackle this we are going to need UK-wide ambition and leadership from the government. We need a new clean air act to set a framework that protects public health across the UK: it should bring together all relevant legislation and set the UK's legal limits in line with those recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Scottish Government have already amended their air pollution limits in line with the WHO, isn't it time we all had the same right to breathe safe air?

Bringing emissions down to safe and legal levels is going to require collaborative, ambitious and tailored interventions. Our children can't afford to wait. It's time to take action and implement the solutions that will reap rewards for generations to come.

Tell the government we need further and faster action on air pollution - sign the petition today: