ULEZ: it needs to be ‘bigger, stronger, smarter’

ULEZ is another important step on the path to banning diesel, but there is still much more work to be done, writes Simon Birkett, founder and director of Clean Air in London (CAL)

Air pollution is the world’s largest environmental health risk, killing about seven million people every year.

The ULEZ pollution charge is another important step therefore on the path to banning diesel and transforming London into a healthier, quieter and more wonderful City.  The steps taken today are the modern equivalent of banning coal and wood burning so successfully after the Clean Air Act 1956 to tackle the visible smog of the 1950s.

By coincidence, the ULEZ is being implemented almost exactly 10 years after ‘Clean Air in London’ (CAL) called formally for such a ‘Berlin-style’ inner low emission zone in London in a presentation to King’s College London’s annual conference on air quality.

The ULEZ is valuable in its own right for public health but it has surely played a significant role, alongside the ‘Dieselgate’ revelations, in triggering the collapse of sales of diesel cars and increase in sales of electric vehicles.

CAL urges the Mayor to make the ULEZ bigger, stronger and smarter.  He should make the ULEZ:

  • Bigger by extending it in further waves or phases in central, inner and outer London;
  • Stronger by requiring: Euro 6 vehicles to demonstrate full on-road compliance with the latest test standard for ‘Real Driving Emissions’; electric vehicles; and then diesel bans and zero emission zones by January 2024; and
  • Smarter by replacing the ‘blunt’ LEZ, ULEZ, congestion charge and other schemes by ‘Emissions Based Road Charging’ which would be simpler, smarter and fairer.

The Mayor must also do more to stop cheating by vehicle operators, businesses and others of emission standards.

This should be done by real-world monitoring along busy roads and providing a phone number or app for people to report smoky and idling vehicles.

All these efforts to tackle carcinogenic diesel emissions should be complemented by investment in public transport and active travel e.g. walking and cycling.  The Mayor also needs to address the other main sources of pollution in London which include energy emissions from buildings and wood burning.

Sadiq Khan should be applauded for making the fight against air pollution one of his top priorities.  His actions contrast sharply with Boris Johnson who spent eight years taking backward steps or delaying action on air pollution.

But Sadiq must do more to deliver on his election manifesto mandate to ‘restore London’s air quality to legal and safe levels’.

We also need a London that will take a lead by:

  • helping to enshrine the human right to clean air in UK and international law so we do not have to wait another 10 years for a similar pollution scheme!;
  • achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goals including their indicators and targets e.g. By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic [collisions] (3.7);
  • fulfilling the commitments made to the World Health Organisation’s #BreatheLife campaign; and
  • stopping relying on the Government to decarbonise energy grids to deliver 45% of the emissions reductions needed for London to become zero carbon by 2050.

Looking further ahead, with carbon dioxide concentrations already well over 400 parts per million and following the publication of the IPCC’s special report on ‘Global Warming of 1.5oC’, all the signs point to a ban on all fossil fuel burning in London by 2030 or soon thereafter.

These steps will transform London and make it a world leader in sustainability.


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