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Lethal and Illegal: Solving London's Air Pollution Crisis

“On 2nd November, The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) released its final report on London's air pollution crisis. One of Sustainability Merton's Community Champions attended the launch event, taking the opportunity to better understand the challenges and opportunities of tackling air pollution in London and to spread the word about Sustainable Merton. Below she shares some more information about the event.

Air pollution at a critical point

As Londoners, we are aware that the quality of the air we breathe is much worse than other parts of the UK. But do we really know just how bad this is? The IPPR concluded that 'London's air pollution problem has now reached critical mass. The capital's air is both illegal and lethal and contributing to the equivalent of up to 9,416 deaths in 2010 alone'.

The effect of air pollution on public health can be difficult to assess scientifically, but the report's findings, based on a new modelling undertaken by researchers at King's College, are alarming.

Traffic the major cause

As the report reminds us, traffic is the major cause of air pollution. One of the main pollutants emitted by diesel cars, lorries and buses is the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Phasing out diesel vehicles across London would help to solve the capital's pollution crisis according to the IPPR, along with more public transport, cycling and walking.

Some report recommendations...

The report recommends action that the GLA, businesses and central government can take by 2020 to improve London's air quality, including the following:

  • The mayor should extend the ultra low emmissions zone (ULEZ) and accelerate its implementation - Extending the ULEZ up to the north and south circular roads and bringing implementation forward to 2019

  • TFL should procure only hybrid or zero emission buses from 2018

  • Central government should devolve vehicle excise duty to London level

  • The mayor should require all newly-licensed private hire vehicles to be zero-emissions capable from 2018

But can they be implemented?

There are many challenges ahead when it comes to implementing these recommendations. Scrapping diesel vehicles is challenging and costly for industry and may not be very popular with the public.

Air pollution is an invisible killer and as MP Matthew Pennycook, chair of parliament’s cross-party group on air pollution, said during the panel discussion “If there was a toxin in our water system that we knew was killing thousands of people every year, the government would be coordinating Cobra meetings every day.”

Greenpeace, who supported the report, said that there is a real public health crisis and that the measures the report recommends had to be implemented and quickly.

Some progress already

Some progress has been made. The GLA representatives at the event said that they were working on implementing some of these measures already and that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan wanted cleaner air for London.

Britain's major health institutions have come together and created the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change to encourage better approaches to tackling climate change that protect and promote public health.

High court tells Government to clean our air faster

At the same time as the event was taking place, in a landmark ruling, the high court ruled that the government's national air quality plan will not cut illegal levels of air pollution in the ''shortest possible time'' as required by law. The legal case was successfully brought by NOG ClientEarth, and the ruling means that Defra will have to follow a new timetable.


Community Champion



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