London air pollution death figures ‘only tip of iceberg’

Pressure mounts on diesel cars as environmental NGO ClientEarth and others react to new estimates that almost 9,500 die prematurely from London air pollution each year

Today’s (July 15) figures estimating that London air pollution caused the early deaths of almost 9,500 people in 2010 are “only the tip of the iceberg”, according to environmental NGO ClientEarth.

ClientEarth's Alan Andrews

ClientEarth’s Alan Andrews

The organisation is one of several to single out diesel vehicles as a major contributor to air pollution in the wake of today’s figures, which also follow a report by the London Assembly this week calling for action to tackle NO2 emissions from diesel fuel (see story).

The latest mortality estimates for the capital were published this morning in a report by King’s College London estimating that the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution is nearly twice that previously thought (see story).

And, the estimated 9,500 mortality figure from nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter PM2.5 pollution combined in London is higher than the 8,000 deaths from smoking each year estimated by the London Health Commission.

Commenting on the figures today, ClientEarth — the organisation which successfully took the government to court over the UK’s failure to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits — said the new research “piles more pressure on the government to come up with a clear and credible plan to cut pollution from diesel vehicles”.

Following the Supreme Court’s judgement on the ClientEarth case in April (see story), Defra must now produce a new air quality plan by the end of 2015 for the UK to meet EU limits for nitrogen dioxide. A draft of the plan is expected to emerge for consultation towards the end of August.

Alan Andrews, lawyer at ClientEarth, said of today’s new estimates: “As shocking as they are, these deaths are really only the tip of the iceberg. For every person who dies early from air pollution, many more are made seriously ill, have to visit hospital or take time off work.

“Nitrogen dioxide is produced mainly by diesel vehicles. We need to get the worst polluting of these out of our towns and cities, away from our schools and hospitals. That requires action from the government on a national scale.”


In addition to unveiling the new estimated mortality figures from NO2 and PM2.5, the Mayor of London also today published an update to his Air Quality Strategy detailing progress on more recent policy measures aimed at cutting air pollution in the capital.

Such measures added to the strategy include £65 million towards helping taxi drivers reduce emissions and supporting the roll out of 9,000 zero emission capable taxis by 2020, as well as the planned ultra low emission zone (ULEZ).

The Mayor, Boris Johnson said these measures taken together would ensure that 80% of central London meets EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide by 2020.

And, alongside the updated strategy, the Mayor also today launched a consultation on planned measures for London boroughs to tackle local emissions and air pollution hotspots — through the statutory Local Air Quality Management process — which are being supported with £20 million in from the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund.

London Assembly

Having spearheaded the report by the London Assembly this week calling for action to tackle NO2 emissions from diesel fuel (see story), Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Stephen Knight today said the new mortality estimates made vital a “big switch towards zero emission electric buses and taxis, not diesel hybrids”.

And, he said: “It is highly disappointing that only last week the Chancellor’s Budget failed to reform Vehicle Excise Duty to discourage more polluting diesel vehicles. It is equally disappointing that the Mayor’s proposals to tackle air pollution in London have been so timid since he came to office in 2008.”

Clean Air in London

Simon Birkett, founder and director of Clean Air in London

Simon Birkett

Also reacting to the new mortality estimates today, Clean Air in London campaigner Simon Birkett praised the Mayor for publishing the new figures, which he said “will send shockwaves around the world”, and called for a ban on diesel vehicles in the capital.

He said: “It’s hard to grasp the scale of a public health problem that is responsible statistically for 9,400 out of 48,297 actual deaths in London in 2010 i.e. 19.7% or one in five of all deaths.  There can no longer be any doubt — air pollution affects all of us and the vulnerable most.

“We must ensure that today’s news means the death of diesel in the capital not the deaths of Londoners. Let’s ban diesel from the most polluted places by 2018 as we banned coal burning so successfully almost exactly 60 years ago.”


Phillip Insall, health director at Sustrans

Phillip Insall, health director at Sustrans

Sustainable transport charity Sustrans also weighed in on the news, arguing for a greater emphasis on walking and cycling instead of motor vehicles in order to reduce pollution in the capital.

Health director at Sustrans, Phillip Insall, said: “Recent legislation in the shape of the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy demands that the government develops a plan to do just that. But it is really vital that the level of investment planned is high enough to achieve meaningful change and eliminate the air quality crisis at its source.”

He added:

“By reducing our reliance on motor vehicles and putting serious investment into walking and cycling we can slash pollution, and at the same time we will benefit from lower obesity, reduced traffic congestion and more pleasant urban environments.”

Related Links:

Mayor of London’s Air Quality Strategy Progress Report
King’s College London report — ‘Understanding the Health Impacts of Air Pollution in London’



Notify of
1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

The research has no basis in fact – as everybody knows.. Talk to the NPL if you want sensible facts and figures..

Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top