Figures indicate London’s air quality woes are easing

For the first time since modern records began, London has entered the third week of January without breaching legal limits for toxic NO2 air pollution.

Every year for the past decade, London’s air has exceeded legal hourly air pollution limits by 6 January, often sometimes as early as 3 January.

To breach legal hourly limits, there needs to be a recording of 18 hours of very high NO2 levels at any individual site. But as of yesterday (15 January), London’s hourly NO2 average limit of 200mg/m3 has exceeded only eight hours across London.

City Hall has attributed the improvement in London’s air quality to the actions introduced by Sadiq Khan during his time in office. Key measures include the introduction of a series of Low Emissions Bus Zones and a Toxicity Charge (T-Charge) for older, more polluting cars in central London.

The Mayor has also proposed to bring forward the central London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to April 2019, 17 months earlier than planned.

“At long last we are seeing some improvements in our toxic air, but much more needs to be done before Londoners can finally breathe a proper sigh of relief,” Khan said.

“I’ve made it my priority to safeguard Londoners’ health by targeting the capital’s most polluted areas and ensuring TfL have the funding needed to deliver the ULEZ and its expansion to help transform London’s air.”

Work to be done

The latest figures provide an encouraging sign. In 2016, there were 1248 hours above the legal limit on Putney High Street. But an upgrade of the bus fleet along the High Street road have reduce the number of hours breaching legal limit by more than 90%.

It is still likely that air quality will exceed the NO2 hourly limit later this month.

The Mayor’s Office intends to extend ULEZ to the North/South circular roads from 2021, and introduce these standards for heavy vehicles such as buses and lorries London-wide from 2020.

City Hall hopes that its air quality measures will reduce NOx road transport emissions by around 45% in central London by 2020 and around 30% in inner and outer London by 2021.

Khan has urged the UK Government to step up its own efforts, calling for a national diesel scrappage scheme to get the dirtiest vehicles off the roads, and for London to gain access to the recently launched National Clean Air Fund.

He said: “Londoners deserve a Government that wakes up to the scale of this problem and delivers tough new air quality legislation so that legal limits are met all year round.

“Instead of shamefully blocking the capital from accessing the new National Clean Air Fund, the Government should be helping me deliver a vehicle scrappage scheme to firmly and fairly get the filthiest cars off our roads now.”

Dirty diesels

There is a widespread concern about the level of NO2 produced by diesel vehicles, which are now responsible for almost 40% of all NO2 emissions in the UK’s major cities.

Recent figures found that a record number of electric and hybrid cars were registered in Britain last year. In contrast, sales for diesel cars dropped by 20% last year, and fell by almost a third in December after the Autumn Budget introduced a higher tax on new diesels.

The Government’s Air Quality Plan, set to come into force this year, proposes a £3bn programme to clean up dirty air around UK roads. As part of the strategy, the Government has committed to the phase-out of new car sales for petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie