London’s air quality needs carrots as well as sticks

Camden Council senior sustainability officer, Gloria Esposito, talks green fuel amid news that the capital's air quality had exceeded legal limits for concentrations of particulate matter.

Along with the implications of a potential €300 million fine from the European Union and withdrawal of £175 million from the International Olympic Committee – shows how far we still have to go to achieve the ambitions of the Clean Air Act.

The smog news caused many in the environmental movement to call for greater fines and punishment to bring the city into line.

Yet, while these fines act as a necessary stick on London as a whole, we now urgently need a far greater range of carrots across the city to enable and encourage ‘good’ behaviour.

In Camden, we believe we are providing the example for others to follow.

By far the most toxic components of air pollution are oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and fine particulate matter (PM10).

Minute particulate matter can enter the lungs and has been linked to asthma and heart disease.

The government’s own figures estimate that this results in between 12,000 and 24,000 premature deaths in the UK each year, with an estimated 4,267 of those in London alone.

With a majority of these harmful emissions coming from the exhausts of diesel vehicles, the London Low Emission Zone was established precisely to combat this problem with charges and fines for vehicles entering its boundaries.

Again, while the charges and fines act as a good deterrent, they don’t, in themselves, enable or encourage those who wish to make the transition to cleaner transport. We need the infrastructure in place to make this transition swift and easy.

For this reason, Camden Council has taken the lead in opening an electric vehicle recharging point and a compressed biomethane gas refuelling station for commercial vehicle operators.

Both sites are available for commercial drivers to refuel, in order to play our part in reducing air pollution across the city.

Biomethane produces 90% less vehicle particulate matter emissions and 60-85% less nitrogen oxides compared with diesel fuel, while the lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions are 65-75% lower.

Biomethane is roughly 20% cheaper than diesel and will save commercial drivers the £200 daily charge needed to enter London’s low emission zone.

Camden is also leading by example by becoming the first council in the UK to launch a fleet of vehicles powered entirely on renewable energy, including 17 vans running on biomethane gas.

Electric vehicles produce no emissions during their operation making these vehicles an ideal solution in cities suffering from poor air quality.

Camden has introduced a recharging point for electric vans which uses three-phase power, the first of its kind in the UK.

In order to lower the carbon footprint of this charging point, a proportion of the electricity is generated by solar panels.

The rest of the electricity is from a renewable tariff. We have made our electric vehicle recharging infrastructure free for commercial operators so we can help accelerate the transition to a cleaner, more efficient environment.

This complements Camden’s network of 28 recharging points for electric cars and small vans.

Many areas of London, including Camden, have major air pollution challenges to address. Hopefully, these carrots can encourage the switch to cleaner transport and cleaner air far quicker than simply using bigger sticks.

A case study can be found here:

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