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Rocky Mountain Institute has released a new report providing cities with recommendations on how they can build back better from multiple challenges experienced in 2020, whilst addressing air quality and equity.

The report provides four strategies for advancing both air quality and equity that cities can use to build back better from the pandemic, the economic downturn and a growing reckoning with racial injustice in the US.

The four strategies outlined in the Breathing Life Back into Cities report include:

  • The phasing out use of fossil fuels in residential and commercial buildings: All-electric buildings have substantially reduced indoor air pollution, providing significant health and economic benefits.
  • Improving access without relying on single-occupancy vehicles and accelerate vehicle electrification: Mobility solutions that prioritise people over cars enable equitable access to places of employment, healthcare, food and recreation, while vehicle electrification is a vital and necessary strategy to reduce air pollution.
  • Investing in urban greening: Urban forests and wetlands impact air quality, carbon sequestration and water management. They also positively affect quality of life, mental health, economic performance, property values and community resilience.
  • Engage utilities to clean up the grid: Municipalities are large energy customers that can wield influence on utilities to transform their energy mix toward clean sources. Clean electricity generation eliminates emissions from fossil fuel combustion and improves air quality within city borders and beyond.

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Ali Rotatori, senior associate at RMI and report co-author, said: “At the start of the COVID-19 lockdown this year, an unexpected side effect emerged—dramatically cleaner air. A few months later, a convergence of events drove racial inequality into our national dialogue with renewed prominence.

“Air quality and equity are highly interconnected issues, and our new analysis shows there are solutions available that can enhance them both.”

Rushad Nanavatty, RMI senior principal and report co-author, adds: “Despite the progress we’ve made, air pollution remains America’s biggest environmental killer—bigger than car crashes and homicides combined. COVID-19 has only made it worse, especially for our poorest and most historically disadvantaged communities.

“By taking a whole-systems approach to improving air quality, cities can make real progress on addressing multiple human and environmental crises at the same time.”

Read more about the Breathing Life Back into Cities report.