Our major global cities are having some serious negative impacts on our children’s health.
According to a report published by Policy Exchange’s Capital City Foundation addressing air pollution in London UK, one in four school students in the city (328,000) attend schools in areas where the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentration exceeds both the legal and healthy limit. In some cases, students were exposed to concentrations twice the limit.
Adults in London did not escape attention, with the report stating that 3.8 million people (over 40% of the daily working population) work in parts on London in which NO2 concentrations also exceed the legal limit. The ‘Up in the Air-How to Solve London’s Air Quality Crisis’ report written by Richard Howard is the first of two on London’s air pollution and discusses the moral, legal and economic case for increasing efforts to tackle air pollution.
Progress has been made in the fight against air pollution in London, with Carbon monoxide (CO) and Sulphur dioxide (SO2) concentrations having dropped 80% since 1996. Policy Exchange’s own analysis of air pollution data revealed that particulates (PM) and Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations have dropped but were still high. In addition, concentrations of the latter in some areas of London were found to be four times higher than the legal limit.
According to the report, the inability to control NO2 emissions in London is predominantly due to an increase in diesel vehicles (50% of all new vehicles sold in the UK) and ineffective vehicle emission standards. Governments have incentivised switching to diesel vehicles, however they have been reported to emit higher concentrations of local pollutants than petrol fuelled vehicles. Some level of improvement has been reported with the introduction of Euro 6 diesel vehicles, however a significant difference between road performance and the Euro 6 specifications has been observed.
The latest air quality projections for London state that, even with current policies, modelling reportedly shows that more than 40 km2 of London is unlikely to meet air quality limits by 2025. The Policy Exchange report identifies a number of risks to the current approach to modelling air quality and emissions, including the potential overestimation of the benefits of implementing Euro 6. Secondly, the models being investigated do not reflect the significant growth in decentralised power generation, including Combined Heat and Power (CHP) that is being promoted by the national Government and the Greater London Authority (GLA). At present, approximately 200 MW of CHP capacities exist across London (from small home units to larger industrial units). There are also additional emissions-related uncertainties from construction vehicles and equipment, and specialised vehicles including refrigerated vans.
More than half of the European Union Member states are currently subject to infringement procedures for at least one air pollutant. London currently ranks 15th out of 36 global cities in terms of overall air quality, placing it ahead of Madrid, Warsaw and Rome, but behind Stockholm, Vienna and Berlin. Two court cases have been brought against the UK Government regarding their air quality plans – in the first case, the European Court of Justice ruled that the UK must implement a plan to meet air quality standards as soon as possible. In April 2015, the UK Supreme Court ordered the Government to redraft the national NO2 plan by the end of December this year and action plans to ensure compliance with legal NO2 limits as soon as possible.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) released a draft plan in September this year in response to the Court finding which outlines a series of measures, including a national network of Clean Air Zones in major cities and a number of local measures within 5 years. Clean Air London and ClientEarth have labelled the plan inadequate on the basis that it passes responsibility for compliance with NO2 limits to local authorities without additional powers of resources. ClientEarth, who brought the first Supreme Court action, are reportedly threatening new action unless the plan is improved.
Under the Greater London Authority Act, the Mayor has legal responsibility for developing an Air Quality Strategy to achieve European Air Quality standards and objectives. The first Mayor’s Strategy in 2001 created a Congestion Charge Zone and introduced a feasibility study for a Low Emission Zone; public transport investment; grants for low emission vehicles; and measures to target emissions reductions for buses, taxis and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). The Low Emission Zone introduced in 2008 declared that any vehicles not in compliance with Euro 4 for HGVs / buses / coaches, and Euro 3 for vans / minibuses / pickup trucks, must be retrofitted or face a £100-200 per day charge to drive in the defined Zone. The Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy was updated in 2010 and included support for the uptake of low emission electric and hydrogen vehicles, an age limit of 15 years for black taxicabs and 10 years for private hire vehicles, and plans to retrofit 1000 older buses and retiring 900 of the oldest buses and replacing them with Euro 4 buses.
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