London's clean air plan

The Mayor of London explains his strategy for improving air quality in the capital through proactive transport policy.

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We are living in a time of unprecedented environmental danger. The climate emergency has brought our planet to the precipice of irreversible, devastating change, while our toxic air is an invisible killer responsible for the premature deaths of thousands of people across Britain every year. Since becoming the Mayor of London, I’ve made these twin crises a major priority – implementing a range of bold policies because I recognise that the status quo is simply not enough to stop the worst effects of air pollution and climate change on our planet, on our communities and on future generations to come.

In the last few months, we have seen a growing momentum behind this cause –from increased support for clean air campaigns, to the youth climate strikes and the Extinction Rebellion protests across London. I share the passion for urgent change of these campaigners and protesters as I absolutely agree that we need to do much more as a country, and fast.

In London, where our children are growing up with stunted lungs and having their health and life chances irreparably damaged by toxic air, I understand exactly what’s at stake. That’s why I declared a climate emergency in London last year and have ensured that we’re already taking practical and far-reaching steps to tackle these issues head-on.

I’m proud that, in many areas, London is now leading the world. This includes rolling out the boldest plans to tackle air pollution of any global city, with the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) launched in April this year. This is the toughest vehicle emission standard ever implemented and the first 24/7 charge for the most polluting vehicles on our roads.

It has already started to make a big difference. In just one month, thousands of motorists across the capital have changed their behaviour, with 74 per cent of vehicles driving into the zone now complying with the new standards – up from just 39 per cent in February 2017. And this is translating into real-world improvements in air quality, including a reduction of approximately 20 per cent in hazardous Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) concentrations measured at roadside monitoring sites compared to February 2017.

 We can also make progress by working to end institutional investment in companies which extract fossil fuels and contribute directly to climate change. I have been working to speed up divestment here in London as well as internationally, collaborating with New York to lead a global city network.

Our Breathe London project has also created the world’s most advanced and comprehensive network of air quality monitors and London is now one of 25 cities that, together, account for around half of all electric vehicles in the world. It’s early days, but it’s great to see Londoners and businesses doing their bit to make a difference by changing the way they live and work to help improve our environment and our children’s future.

I’m determined that we build on the success of the ULEZ and go even further. Our next step is to introduce even tighter pollution standards for heavy vehicles, including lorries, buses and coaches across the entire city in 2020, before expanding the ULEZ to an area 18 times its current size in 2021. This will allow millions of Londoners to benefit from the reductions in air pollution we are already starting to see in central London.

I’m also proud that London is one of the first major cities in the world to publish a detailed and independently assessed climate action plan that outlines how we will comply with the Paris Agreement. This involves investing record sums in public transport, making walking and cycling easier and aiming for all new cars and vans to be zero-emission from 2030.

This will require radical change in the way Londoners travel by incentivising them to embrace clean, alternative forms of transport. Car ownership continues to decline in London, but we’ll never be able to eliminate the need for vehicles, so we must do more to help people choose the cleanest and most efficient options possible.

That’s why we are partnering with industry to enable an electric vehicle revolution. Through my Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Taskforce, the public and private sectors are working together to expand London’s growing network of public charge points and making sure they are well used, in the right locations and future-proofed for tomorrow’s technology.

The past year has seen more than 1,000 new charge points introduced across the city at petrol stations, town centres and retrofitted into street lighting columns. Our world-famous cabbies drive more than 1,600 electric taxis and Transport for London now runs Europe’s largest electric bus fleet. And, at City Hall, we have created a new multi-million fund to support small businesses, charities and low-income Londoners switch from older, more polluting vehicles to newer, cleaner alternatives.

I’ve been Mayor for three years now and I’m just as passionate today as when I was first elected to deliver on my ultimate ambition: to make London a fairer city where all Londoners get the opportunities that our city gave to me and my family. A key part of this will always be doing everything possible to deliver a cleaner, greener, healthier city for Londoners and ensuring that, in the longer term, we do right by our children, our planet and future generations.

London proves that if the political will is there, it is possible to act to tackle our climate emergency. But the reality is we need the government to step up too. So I urge everyone to keep up the pressure and to continue to call on ministers to rise to the moment and to treat climate change and air pollution with the seriousness it deserves.

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.