London air pollution falls in Ultra Low-Emission Zone

london air pollution
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New figures show a significant drop in London air pollution since the introduction of an Ultra Low-Emission Zone (ULEZ) earlier this year.

High levels of London air pollution cost the city up to £3.7bn (€4.28bn) every year, causing thousands of premature deaths and exacerbating the risk of conditions including asthma, cancer and dementia. Since the introduction six months ago of the world’s first ULEZ within the city’s Central London Congestion Charging zone, the capital has seen 13,500 fewer cars driven through the zone; with a report produced by City Hall showing that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions in the ULEZ  have dropped by 36% and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have fallen by 4%, amounting to a reduction of 9,800 tonnes of carbon.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “These figures prove without a doubt that ULEZ is exceeding expectations, reducing polluting vehicles and cleaning up our lethal air. I am determined to stop Londoners breathing air so filthy it is damaging our children’s lungs and causing thousands of premature deaths. The ULEZ shows what we can achieve if we are brave enough to implement such ambitious policies. I now hope the Government will match my ambition and amend their environment bill to ensure it has the legally binding WHO-recommended limits to be achieved by 2030 that we need to protect public health.”

Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “The success of the Ultra Low-Emission Zone is a fantastic example of the difference Clean Air Zones that charge the most polluting vehicles can make in reducing levels of pollution. We now want to see the ULEZ expanded to every polluted London borough to protect the lungs of every Londoner; and critically, we know dirty air isn’t just a problem in London. Most UK cities have illegal and unsafe levels of pollution, which seriously effects the health and quality of life of the millions who have a lung disease and puts children at risk of developing a lung condition. That’s why similar Clean Air Zones must be urgently rolled out across the country to protect everyone’s lungs.”

City Hall’s report into the drop in London air pollution found that:

  • Emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) in the ULEZ have fallen by 31%, putting the zone ahead of its target of a 45% reduction in its first year;
  • Car traffic flows in Central London dropped by between 3% and 9% as a result of the ULEZ implementation as residents switched to healthier, more sustainable forms of transport;
  • 77% of vehicles in the ULEZ now meet the zone’s emissions standards, in comparison with 61% in March 2019; and
  • If emissions in the ULEZ continue to decrease at the current rate, the zone will see a decrease in CO2 emissions of 13% in comparison to 2016 levels by the end of its first year in operation.

Alex Williams, Transport for London’s Director of City Planning, said: “The introduction of the ULEZ this year was a significant moment for Londoners’ health, as the evidence of its first six months clearly shows. Nearly four out of every five vehicles now entering the zone meets the tough emissions standards, reducing harmful NO2 pollution by almost a third. The early evidence suggests that the ULEZ is not only encouraging people to use cleaner private cars, but also to use more sustainable alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport. The ULEZ is also helping to reduce its impact on climate change – with an estimated reduction of road-based carbon dioxide by nearly 100,000 tonnes.”

Respiratory specialist Professor Stephen T Holgate said: “Introducing the ULEZ to reduce vehicle related air pollution is already showing marked travel behaviour change in those entering this area of London and reducing vehicle use resulting in large reductions in NO2 emissions. Since NO2 is an index pollutant of traffic pollution at street level, reductions of this order will be highly beneficial especially to those most vulnerable such as the very young and old, and those with coexistent lung and heart disease. It is also pleasing to see that such a dramatic behaviour change is not offset by increased vehicles at the ULEZ periphery.”

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