For decades, London has been known for its smoggy, polluted air. Despite efforts to improve air quality, the problem persists, and the consequences of dirty air can be devastating. The latest statistics from the Mayor of London’s office show that air pollution is responsible for over 4,000 premature deaths in the capital each year. In this article, we will explore the causes of London’s dirty air, its impact on public health, and what is being done to tackle the problem.
Causes of London’s Dirty Air
The primary cause of air pollution in London is road transport. Vehicles emit a range of pollutants, including nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). In addition, diesel engines are a significant source of air pollution, and diesel vehicles are particularly problematic as they emit higher levels of NOx and PM compared to petrol vehicles. Other sources of air pollution in London include construction activities, industrial processes, and heating and cooking in homes.
London’s geography exacerbates the problem of air pollution. The city is surrounded by hills, which trap pollutants and prevent them from dispersing. In addition, London experiences high levels of air pollution due to its location in the path of prevailing winds from mainland Europe, where pollution levels are also high.
Impact of London’s Dirty Air on Public Health
The health effects of air pollution are well documented. Exposure to polluted air can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems, including asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, and exposure to polluted air can also harm cognitive development.
The economic cost of air pollution is also significant. The Mayor of London’s office estimates that air pollution costs the city £3.7 billion per year, including the cost of premature deaths, hospital admissions, and lost productivity.
What is Being Done to Tackle London’s Dirty Air?
The UK government and the Mayor of London’s office have introduced a range of measures aiming to improve air quality in the capital. These include:
- Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ): The ULEZ was introduced in 2019 and covers the same area as the Congestion Charge Zone. Vehicles that do not meet emissions standards are charged a fee to enter the zone.
- Low Emission Zone (LEZ): The LEZ covers a larger area than the ULEZ and applies to heavier vehicles such as lorries, buses, and coaches.
- Clean Air Zones: Clean Air Zones have been introduced in several cities across the UK, including Birmingham, Bath, and Bristol. These zones aim to reduce air pollution by charging high-polluting vehicles to enter.
- Electric Vehicles: The UK government has committed to banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030, and the Mayor of London has introduced measures to encourage the use of electric vehicles, such as installing more charging points.
- Green Infrastructure: Planting trees and creating green spaces can help to absorb pollutants and improve air quality. The Mayor of London has launched a programme to plant two million trees by 2025.
While these measures are a step in the right direction, there is still much more that needs to be done to tackle London’s dirty air. The Mayor of London’s office has set out an ambitious plan to achieve a carbon-neutral city by 2030, which includes reducing emissions from road transport, buildings, and industry. The plan also includes measures to improve public transport and encourage active travel, such as walking and cycling.
In addition to government action, individuals can also take steps to reduce their exposure to polluted air. This includes avoiding busy roads and walking or cycling on quieter routes, using public transport or car-sharing, and reducing their use of fossil fuels by choosing renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power for their homes and businesses. Together, we can work towards a cleaner, healthier future for London and beyond.