CLAIRO study on behavioural changes: Mass planting for clean air is more popular than other air quality related measures
The study analysed in depth the results of the public opinion surveys, which were conducted under CLAIRO on air quality in 2019 and 2020, in Ostrava and nearby towns. The study that addressed three distinct themes, air quality, urban greenery, and the willingness of people to change their behaviour to improve air quality, similarly to the questions of the two surveys, included also comments from experts of the thematic areas covered.
People are both interested in and dissatisfied with air quality in Ostrava
The study highlighted that a surprisingly high proportion of the population of the Moravian-Silesian Region (over 80%) consider the topic of air quality to be important, and furthermore almost 60% of the people living in the region take an active interest in this theme. A higher proportion of women than men consider protection of air quality to be important and show an interest in the topic. The level of education influenced most significantly the attitude towards the topic. Over 75% of respondents with a university degree stated that they are interested in the topic and consider it very important, while this figure was only 56% for the average respondents. A relatively large share of the respondents maintain that they are not very interested in this area, even though they think it is very important.
The surveys indicated that the perceived satisfaction with air quality is relatively low in the region, almost half of the population is dissatisfied with it. There is however a positive trend in this field, as the share of satisfied respondents increased from 2019 to 2020 with 5%. This change might be attributed to favourable climatic conditions and to a reduction in traffic and industrial output due to Covid-19 restrictions. Men are slightly more satisfied than women with their area’s air quality.
People aged 30-39 were the least satisfied with air quality, and at the same time this age group, which is typically the one that is starting families, was the most interested in the topic. In general, it could be observed that the more the respondent was interested in air quality, the lower their satisfaction with air quality was.
Many consider relocating due to air pollution
The results of the survey reveals that air pollution is a personal problem for the inhabitants, interfering with their lives. Slightly over 65% of the population perceive that they are limited or bothered in some way by air pollution. Around 20% mentioned own health problems associated with air quality, almost 14% are concerned about their children’s health, and some highlighted restrictions of movement.
The fact that polluted air affects the life of the inhabitants of Ostrava agglomeration is also evidenced by the fact that over 25% of the residents in the area consider changing their residence due to air pollution. Nearly 10% of the population is seriously considering relocating, while roughly another 17% considered it but is uncertain about moving. Survey results indicate that the willingness to move due to air quality is most prevalent among the youngest generation and residents with higher level of education. As might be expected, those who are dissatisfied with the quality of the air and interested in the topic are the most likely to think about relocating.
Although there is evidence that the quality of the air in Ostrava has been significantly improving over the last decade, still only less than third of the respondents think that the current state of air better than it was 10 years ago. This general ignorance of the subject clearly indicates that communication has not been quite effective in this field. The fact that more than a third of the local population do not trust media reports on air quality further aggravates the situation.
Bohumil Kotlik, Head of the Department of Air Pollution and Waste of the Public Health Institute, one of the experts commenting the study highlighted:
In terms of air quality, the Moravian-Silesian Region is among the most congested areas in the Czech Republic and industry still plays a significant role in the situation, but in addition to this transport and local heating plants are also important. Focusing only on large enterprises negatively affects the willingness of the population to participate in improving the situation according to the principle of ‘it won't help anyway’.
Accordingly, an intensive communication campaign on pollution sources, which residents can influence with their own actions (namely transport and domestic heating) could effectively contribute to behavioural change in Ostrava agglomeration. It would be sensible to target with such a campaign mainly at residents who consider the topic of air quality important, but who are not overly interested in this topic.
Residents would even pay to support greening
The study also assessed the attitude of the population of the Moravian-Silesian Region towards greening public spaces. It was found that more than three quarters of the respondents supported the development of new forms of greenery in urban areas, such as green roofs, vertical gardens, and green façade walls. A slightly higher proportion of women prefer these solutions relative to men. Preference also changes with age. Support for such planting methods decreases gradually with increasing age. The link to educational background is even more pronounced, with an increasing level of education support for these nature-based solutions grows substantially. Finally, these planting methods are twice as popular with people from larger cities, than those living in rural areas.
A relatively high share of the population would be willing to go one step further, providing also financial support for urban greening. In total, around 45% of the respondents would be willing to support financially the planting of new greenery or other measures aiming at air quality improvements undertaken by the municipality. While only about 10% of the population would be ready to provide up to 20 EUR annually for this purpose, in case of respondents with a university degree this share increases to 25%.
Katerina Stara, an expert from K2N Landscape studio, commenting the survey results emphasized that residents can actively step up for a change as individuals:
In terms of planting and caring for greenery not only landowners can be involved, but also the inhabitants of blocks of flats or apartment buildings who can contribute to the environment with carefully chosen vegetation placed in window boxes or on balconies.
Out of five different solutions offered to improve air quality, mass planting of greenery in city centres was the most popular with respondents, almost 80% supported this option most probably because this was the only one that would not have a direct negative impact on their comfort.
Surprisingly, continuous air quality measurements and increased enforcement with the imposition of fines for those who exceed emission limit values also had a high level of support.
A ban on the use of solid fuels for heating, or traffic restrictions in large city centres were unpopular solutions. The closure of industrial facilities located in city centres, was considered the least popular measure, most probably due to its adverse economic effects.
Women are more willing to change their behaviour to improve air quality
Nearly 60% of respondents declared their willingness to change their behaviour to improve air quality in their region. There was a much higher willingness among women to contribute to changes than among men. People with a university degree are more prepared to contribute actively. In addition, people who are inclined to relocate because of poor air quality are also more willing to contribute. The vast majority of the respondents support planting of greenery, while almost a quarter of them have expressed an interest in planting in person.
In the study reflecting on the results of the surveys, a set of recommendations was proposed for cities linked to greening for air quality improvement. These include the following:
- Inform residents regularly and in a balanced manner on the long-term evolution of air quality, pollution sources, health effects and related initiatives, to support citizen-led pollution reduction in cities.
- Actively address, motivate and engage the local population, offer various options for engagement, cooperate with local initiatives, civil society organizations, and schools in the form of competitions, discussions, small grants and other activities.
- For urban greening, target locations with multiple stress factors and always consider the appropriate structure and composition of greenery.
- Consider the costs of maintenance of the vegetation, and ensure aftercare.
- Use built-up areas and brownfield sites for new investments, to safeguard existing urban green spaces.
- Support strategic, integrated planning of new public space and consider sustainability aspects, user needs, accessibility together with links to mobility and health and wellbeing impacts as part of the planning process. Green infrastructure should be an integral part of the plan from the outset; green elements should not simply be installed in locations where ‘there is space left’.
Renata Svobodová, Jan Krajhanzl, and Tomas Chabada from the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University in Brno pointed out that the results of the two surveys support air quality related decision-making at local authorities in the region:
Psychological research shows that when we perceive a threat as distant, when it does not concern us, we are less likely to do something about it. It is the personal perception of air pollution that helps to mitigate the problem through behaviour. Therefore, it is crucial to find out what specific activities people are undertaking. The CLAIRO survey showed that citizens are in favour of planting greenery, municipalities can therefore count on their support when landscaping and motivate them to do some planting themselves.
Local authorities can get much further by accurately mapping out the needs of residents. One of the main conclusions of the study is that the more cities know about the preferences of their inhabitants, the more they can help them change their behaviour, and the more effectively they can use their own resources for this purpose.