London ultra-low emission zone would be a world-first – more ambition is needed

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London is currently consulting on what could be the world’s first ultra-low emission zone. It was first proposed by the Mayor of London in 2013, in light of the failure to meet EU air quality limits for nitrogen dioxide. In fact, London’s air pollution is so bad that two monitoring stations have already broken the hourly average limit for nitrogen dioxide for the whole of 2015.

Road transport is the largest source of air pollution in London, with diesel vehicles the main causes of nitrogen dioxide. The city already has a low emission zone (LEZ) that sets minimum emission standards for some categories of vehicles (mainly vans, coaches and lorries). The Mayor of London has previously been criticised for not fully implementing the existing low emission zone. This failure has made it less effective in cutting air pollution.

In theory, an ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) would be a very good way of tackling air pollution from road transport. It works by imposing restrictions on which vehicles can enter a particular area, based on the emissions they produce. In this way, the dirtiest vehicles can be targeted and more sustainable travel and cleaner fuels can be encouraged.

However, the current proposals are not ambitious enough. Local Authorities in London, public health professionals, freight and car manufacturing industries representatives and community campaigners want the scheme to be introduced earlier, to cover a larger area and set stricter standards. The consultation acknowledges that these options could achieve more, but delays consulting on them. It fails to set a path to gradually tighten emission standards to encourage the use of zero-emission vehicles. It also fails to accept the need to reduce the number of vehicles on our roads.

Pressure for ambitious action is growing. Air pollution in London causes at least 4,300 early deaths each year. This figure is likely to increase when a government advisory body releases a new report into the previously unquantified health effects of nitrogen dioxide. Last month, a group of MPs published a damning report on the UK’s efforts to tackle air pollution. In November, the European Court of Justice upheld citizens’ right to clean air as part of ClientEarth’s legal case against the UK government and ruled that it needs to produce a plan to meet legal limits in “as short as time as possible”. Current government plans show that London will not meet legal limits until after 2030 – more than 20 years after the deadline.

A successful ULEZ in London will not only help protect the health of those that live and work in the capital. It will also lead the way for other cities and towns in the UK, Europe and worldwide to follow. Our Healthy Air Campaign is encouraging Londoners to respond and demand cleaner air in London. Have your say, here:

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2 thoughts on “London ultra-low emission zone would be a world-first – more ambition is needed

  1. Peter

    To say the ULEZ was first proposed by the current mayor is a little misleading. It is building on the LEZ which his predecessor had put in place, with tighter controls scheduled which as you refer to Mr Johnson scrapped when he took office. He also scrapped the higher congestion charge for more polluting vehicles, also planned, and the western congestion charge. Through his policies of short-term expediency he has wasted years tackling the problem.

  2. Peter

    In fact, if you take into account the fact that the measures he has come up with will not take effect until 2020, he will have wasted around a decade. One gets the feeling that he would not have done anything if he had not been forced to.

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