‘An issue of life and death’: Sadiq Khan unveils bold air quality plans for London

Air pollution in London, as seen from Hackney. April 2015. [David Holt/Flickr]

On the 60th anniversary of the UK’s Clean Air Act, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced a plan to tackle toxic air, including the implementation of clean bus corridors, an extension of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and an emissions surcharge. EURACTIV’s partner edie.net reports.

Launched as part of a major public consultation today (5 July), the mayor is taking much-needed action to clean up the air of a city which breached its annual pollution limits for 2016 in just one week.

Key proposals unveiled by Khan include introducing the central London Ultra-Low Emission Zone in 2019 – a year earlier than planned – and expanding the ULEZ beyond central London from 2020.

Significantly, the mayor has also vowed to implement a £10 emissions surcharge on the most polluting vehicles entering central London from 2017, which would allegedly be the toughest crackdown on the most polluting vehicles by any major city around the world.

Additionally, all double-deck buses will be required to be ULEZ-complaint in central London from 2019, while proposals have been drawn up for a national diesel scrappage scheme.

Khan said: “With nearly 10,000 people dying early every year in London due to exposure to air pollution, cleaning up London’s toxic air is now an issue of life and death.

“The scale of the failure to tackle the problem is demonstrated by the failure of the Government and the previous Mayor to meet legal pollution limits.  Urgent action is now needed to ensure Londoners no longer have to fear the very air we breathe.

“This is just a small part of the wider measures I’m consulting on to protect the health of Londoners.  And I urge everyone to respond and share their views and ideas to help tackle this public health emergency.”

‘Crying out for ambition’

These proposals will come as welcome news to environmental groups and London citizens alike. Yesterday, new research conducted following a survey of residents from the capital and other major UK cities highlighted widespread concern about air pollution and support for the introduction of a Clean Air Zone.

Khan’s new air quality plans reinforce the mayor’s central promise to significantly improve air quality in London. In just his first week in office, he revealed he would be directly involved in renewed action with environmental law firm ClientEarth during its ongoing legal battle with the Government, and has subsequently pledged a raft of new green proposals.

Responding to the Mayor of London’s fresh plans today, Labour’s London Assembly Environment Spokesperson, Leonie Cooper AM, said: “Poor air quality has plagued some of London’s most vulnerable communities including school children and those in deprived areas.

“We’ve be crying out for an ambitious plan to tackle air pollution in London. Tough measures, such as the £10 T-charge and the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone, could go a long way to combating this silent killer.

“The mayor is playing his part, now Government must too by taking on board calls for a diesel scrappage scheme and a new Clean Air Act fit for the 21st Century.”

More broadly, the UK government was once again being urged to ramp up efforts to deal with the “deadly issue” of air pollution yesterday, this time as new reports suggest that “watered-down” proposals agreed by European Union (EU) Member States could lead to nearly 10,000 additional deaths across the continent.

With a plethora of publications highlighting the devastating extent to which the issue of air pollution is impacting the health of UK citizens and the world population in general, edie.net recently took a look at the shocking statistics behind the air quality crisis.

The European LPG Association (AEGPL), said, "Cities like London are already taking initiatives to tackle the problem at its source, in response to the significant air quality deterioration in recent years. Alternative fuels like LPG Autogas have a role to play in the transition towards a cleaner road transport."

Air pollution has different particulate matter (PM) components – smoke, dirt and dust form coarse particles known as PM10 and metals and toxic exhaust from smelting, vehicle exhaust, power plants and refuse burning forming fine particles called PM2.5.

The 2008 Air Quality Directive aimed at streamlining and tightening EU legislation dealing with pollution and air standards. It is now under review.

The directive obliges member states must cut exposure to fine particulate matter by an average of 20% by 2020, based on 2010 levels.

Many of the policies grow out of a 2005 strategy on air pollution, which sought to cut sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 82%, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 60%, volatile organic compounds by 51%, ammonia (NH3) by 27%, and primary fine particulates by 59% compared to the levels of 2000.

Health advocates say the cost of cutting emissions through better smokestack scrubbers, cleaner-burning vehicles and a shift to renewable fuels would be more than offset by savings in treating complications of bad air.

Part of the package is the Nation Emissions Ceiling (NEC) Directive. It sets post-2020 national emissions ceilings (NEC) for six air pollutants, such as particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxide (NOx).

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