Over 7 million people die each year from air pollution across the world, with 34,000 people in the UK dying early as a result. Researchers at the University of Birmingham are working to identify the different causes and effects of air pollution, and applying their learning to public policy globally to help develop clean air solutions in areas such as India, China, and East Africa, as well as in cities and regions across the UK, including the West Midlands. 91% of the world’s population lives in places where outdoor air quality exceeds WHO guideline limits. We are working to understand how to save lives at risk from air pollution.

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Applying our learning to help deliver clean air

The University of Birmingham is forging international and interdisciplinary partnerships to help meet the global challenge of air pollution, in order to control emissions and reduce public-health impacts. Birmingham’s strength lies not only in establishing causes of air pollution, but in applying that learning to provide science advice in support of policy development.

“We have the high-level scientific understanding, tools, and critical mass to study atmospheric processes, with a particular strength in urban air quality,” notes William Bloss, Professor of Atmospheric Science.

Research into air pollution in the United Kingdom is supported by three new air quality supersites across the country, one of which is based at the University of Birmingham campus. The supersites use state-of-the-art monitoring systems to identify harmful pollutants more accurately than ever before.

“The University has an extensive record of providing science advice to inform policy for national and international bodies, ranging from DEFRA and the Department for Health through to the EU and WHO,” commented Professor Roy Harrison FRS OBE, Queen Elizabeth II Birmingham Centenary Professor of Environmental Health.

Working globally to improve air quality

We are working in Delhi, rated as the most polluted city in the world for ambient air pollution by the World Health Organisation, to determine the sources and processes responsible. We are taking a systems approach to develop options to mitigate air pollution. This will allow us to assess the likely effectiveness of changes in behaviour — for example odd/even number plate traffic bans — to improve air quality.

In China, Professor Roy Harrison (leading international expert in the sources, transformations and health impacts of air pollution) and Dr Zongbo Shi are leading collaborations with top universities and research institutes in the area of atmospheric science - looking at the causes and impacts of poor air quality and atmospheric pollution events in Beijing, and the prediction of future extreme weather events in China and East Asia.

The University is also leading a major international research project looking at how rapid urbanisation in three African cities — Addis Ababa, Kampala and Nairobi — impacts upon air quality.

‘A Systems Approach to Air Pollution in East Africa’ (ASAP East Africa), led by Professor Francis Pope, brings together UK and East African experts in air pollution, urban planning, economic geography, public health, social sciences and development studies to provide a framework for improved air quality management in East African cities.

Interdisciplinary approaches are key to delivering clean air - for example, Dr Lauren Andres’ work in urban planning draws out the importance of the built environment and the local urban context in assessing such environmental and public health issues.

Professor Francis Pope

Professor Francis Pope

Professor of Atmospheric Science

“Urban air pollution is one of the most pressing challenges facing cities. Exposure to air pollution is one of the biggest causes of premature death and infant mortality in urban Africa today.”

In East Africa, Dr Suzanne Bartington is working with Principal Investigator Dr Kabera Telesphore at the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology to investigate the public health impact of household air pollution in Kigali. With 3.8 million deaths occurring every year worldwide as a result of exposure to smoke from solid biomass fuels, the interdisciplinary project aims to support development of a cookstove intervention to improve population health outcomes, particularly among women and children.

Much of this research is collaborative and interdisciplinary, and includes a range of key international experts from multiple disciplines within the University; these include Dr Zongbo Shi (sources and emissions of air pollutants), Professor Rob MacKenzie and Dr Emma Ferranti (green infrastructure), Professor Neil Thomas (epidemiology), Dr Xiaoming Cai (urban meteorology), Professor Lee Chapman (urban climate resilience), Professor Stuart Harrad (persistent organic pollutants), Professor John Bryson (economic geography) and Dr William Avis (international development).

Professor William Bloss

Professor William Bloss

Professor of Atmospheric Science

“Improving air quality will bring direct health benefits to millions of people, reduce direct and indirect economic costs and enhance quality of life across the West Midlands. This programme will bring together the latest environmental science from air pollution, health and economic research experts, to support policy makers, key industry bodies and businesses to help reduce the impacts of air pollution in the region, and support clean growth.”

The University of Birmingham continues to grow its research capacity across the United Kingdom and in affected developing nations in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In doing so, it will play a vital role in providing the air quality data and science to inform policy makers and protect the public health of citizens in the world’s emerging cities, supporting the emergence of low pollution development models and clean air solutions.


The West Midlands Air Quality Improvement Programme

Environmental health sciences

Research areas

The Urban Initiative

Institute of Applied Health Research

Find out more

ASAP East Africa ➤
Atmospheric Pollution and Human Health in an Indian Megacity ➤
Air Pollution and Human Health in a Developing Megacity (APHH-Beijing) ➤
Atmospheric Chemistry and Air Pollution ➤
The Chronicle of Higher Education - 'Air Pollution: Cleaning up the Skies' ➤
Learn about our other Birmingham Heroes ➤