Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, reports on the challenges facing the capital in meeting air quality targets.

London is a vast and rapidly growing city. Large parts of the capital are highly built up with office blocks and high-rise residential developments. This intensive use of land, together with emissions from buildings and transport means that air pollution is high in many areas and exceeds the Government's National Air Quality Objectives.

London’s present growth is powered by the forces of international globalisation. If any London Mayor wished to reverse this they would be powerless to intervene. My approach has been to develop policies that harness this growth and take advantage of London’s size and intensive land use; to improve London’s sustainability and everyone’s quality of life.

Local authorities are legally obliged to regularly review and assess air quality. If air quality is predicted to breach Government targets then they must draw up an action plan containing cost effective measures to reduce pollution concentrations. I have a legal duty to assess London borough air quality work and my Air Quality Strategy, published in September 2002, contains a list of policies and proposals that I expect to see included in action plans.

London has suffered from poor air quality for centuries due to the widespread burning of coal and wood as a fuel and the development of heavy industries and coal fired power stations. Much has already been done to improve the situation. Gas, electricity and oil have largely replaced coal burning and heavy industry and large power stations have generally closed down, but there is still a long way to go to protect peoples’ health.

The major sources of air pollution today are road traffic, other transport, commercial and private buildings and industry. Over 87,000 tonnes of oxides of nitrogen and over 4,500 tonnes of PM10 were emitted in London in 2001.

National and EU policies have helped to improve air quality. These policies include reducing vehicle emissions through the introduction of progressively stricter ‘Euro’ emission targets, the introduction of cleaner petrol and diesel and reduced emissions from power stations and other sources.

Government estimates indicate that, nationally, vehicle emissions will decline to the year 2015. Then increased vehicle use will counteract the gains made from the introduction of cleaner individual vehicles and emissions will start to slowly increase again.

Government plans to encourage the future development and introduction of low emission and low carbon vehicles will help offset this expected increase in emissions. It will also help to cut emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) as road transport is the only sector where CO2 emissions are still increasing. The Government has a target to cut CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2010.

My vision for London is to improve the sustainable development of London; combating poor air quality and other environment and quality of life issues; improving the use of resources and reducing the production of waste. I have sought to achieve two important changes; to reduce emissions by reducing the number of vehicles in central London and to clean up the emissions of those that remain.

The central London Congestion Charging scheme has reduced traffic in the zone by approximately 16 per cent since the scheme began in February 2003. Transport for London (TfL) is currently assessing the effect of congestion charging on both exhaust emissions and air quality.

The policy has mainly removed cars and other light duty vehicles, freeing up road space for delivery and other more essential vehicles. Cycling has increased by between 20 – 30 per cent; showing that the policy has increased the perception of safety.

London is the only area in the UK where bus passenger numbers are increasing, reversing a 30 year decline. TfL are investing in new, state of the art vehicles and has also increased the number of buses and routes served. These policies, together with reduced journey times have made bus travel very attractive and help reduce the use of private cars.

Three hydrogen fuel cell buses, which produce no air pollution emissions at point of use, were introduced into the TFL fleet in January. Further trials are planned this year to assess 10 diesel electric hybrid buses and significant emissions reductions are expected.

A combination of measures will be needed in London to meet Government targets to improve air quality. One major policy has the potential to make the biggest gains – a low emissions zone (LEZ) covering the whole of Greater London.

A recent study showed that an LEZ could reduce emissions by accelerating the introduction of cleaner vehicle technologies. Initial proposals are to regulate only heavier vehicles; HGVs, buses and coaches, as they produce the highest emissions per vehicle.

By 2010 it could achieve a 19 per cent reduction in total London PM10 emissions (achieving a 34 per cent reduction in the area exceeding the Government target) and a 2.5 per cent reduction in total London NOX emissions (achieving a 12 per cent reduction in the area exceeding the Government target).

Cost is an important consideration and discussions with Government are continuing to try and find the resources that will make this scheme possible. 2007 is the earliest date a London-wide LEZ could be introduced. More details are available on the web site

Approximately 20 per cent of NOX emissions within London are from buildings. This is primarily from gas used to provide heating and hot water. Gas replaced much of the coal burning capacity of London from the late 1950’s and was seen as a clean fuel as it did not produce the same amount of smoke and sulphur dioxide as coal burning.

As London’s population continues to rise, over the next 12 years, and more housing is built, NOX emissions from this sector are expected to increase. The overall contribution from gas use will increase too, aided by the continued fall of emissions from road transport. I am already beginning to tackle this issue.

Both the forthcoming London Plan and Energy Strategy contain proposals to deal with this issue through promoting and encouraging greater energy efficiency, reducing fuel use, improving the design of new buildings and increasing the contribution of renewable energy sources.

London may no longer be referred to as the Big Smoke, but Londoners use as much energy as entire countries like Portugal and Ireland. Government, both national and local has to work alongside businesses and local communities to ensure all Londoners play their part in reducing pollution. Politicians are sometimes prone to hyperbole, but it is no exaggeration to say that our future depends on this.

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