CleanAir for London
The UK government is failing by a wide margin to meet its legal obligations to combat air pollution in London. ClientEarth intends to compel the authorities to tackle the issue fully. We launched our CleanAir for London campaign on 27 July 2009 - three years to the day before the London 2012 Olympics.
London has the worst air quality in the UK and some of the worst in Europe. Recent figures published by the Mayor have suggested that air pollution directly contributes to around 4,300 deaths each year in London alone. To put this toll in context, workplace-related passive smoking contributed to 617 deaths per year across the UK prior to the smoking ban: the number of deaths in London is seven times that figure.
European law has set limits for levels of dangerous airborne particles (known as PM10) in the air. These limits are based on World Health Organisation assessments of the health risks associated with air pollution. Greater London has failed to meet these limits in every year since they became legally binding in 2005. The Government has applied for a time extension for complying with these limits. By obtaining an extension, the Government aims to avoid fines and win more time to address a pressing problem that should have been prioritised years ago. To demonstrate its resolve to protect public health, the European Commission issued a final written warning to the UK over these legal breaches on 3 June 2010.
ClientEarth does not believe that the UK government is legally eligible for a time extension for PM10. The UK does not meet the preconditions required by European legislation for the time extension and current plans to eliminate breaches of PM10 in London by June 2011 are not credible. ClientEarth is taking legal action to compel the government to comply with its air quality obligations. We have made several submissions to the European Commission urging it to reject the government’s request for a time extension for PM10 in London. Without a delayed deadline it will have to take decisive action now, rather than put off its obligations while more Londoners suffer the health effects of poor air quality.
European law also sets limits for levels of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas. These limits became binding on 1 January 2010 and within weeks had been breached in several locations in London. Levels of NO2 on many of London’s roads regularly double these limits. Neither the Mayor or the government has a plan for bringing NO2 pollution under control. We have been lobbying central government and the Mayor to come up with a plan.
The Mayor of London’s air quality strategy is currently out for public consultation. The strategy does not go far enough to ensure air quality laws will be complied with in the future. Instead of moving forward with bold policies to tackle London’s air pollution problem, the Strategy actually removes two key measures with proven air quality benefits – the western extension to the congestion charging zone and phase 3 of the low emission zone. We are responding to this consultation to put pressure on the Mayor to come up with an adequate strategy which commits him to taking urgent and effective action.
What must be done?
The government can and should make great efforts to improve London air quality in time for the London 2012 Olympics. Action taken to tackle air pollution will save lives, improve the quality of life of all Londoners and save billions of pounds in healthcare costs.
The London Assembly environment committee’s cross-party report “Every Breath You Take” sets out clear and practical recommendations about the means to achieve these aims before the deadline. The committee’s report states that the UK must:
1) Introduce additional, smaller low emission zones to target pollution hotspots from road transport.
2) Introduce a vehicle retrofit subsidy scheme in London with funding support from central government.
3) Launch a widespread public understanding campaign to ensure air quality issues are more accessible to Londoners.
4) Reduce the emissions of the older public diesel vehicle fleet as a vital priority.
5) Use planning guidance established in existing legislation if there are air quality implications for planning decisions.
ClientEarth endorses the committee’s recommendations and any other measures necessary to achieve full legal compliance with air quality laws in London. If the recommendations are implemented, London could become a model for behavioural change, technological progress and political will benefitting cities around the world.
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ClientEarth CEO James Thornton and lawyer Alan Andrews with London Assembly members and MEPs from the Green, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties, Environmental protection UK and the Campaign for Clean Air in London.