For the rest of the year, Londoners are set to be breathing in illegal levels of toxic air.
The capital city reached the air pollution limit set by the EU for the entirety of 2018 within just one month. The law states that toxic nitrogen dioxide levels cannot exceed the safe limit more than 18 times per year, which has already occurred on Brixton Road, Lambeth.
Well, the good news is that this year it has taken longer for London to smash the limit than it did last year, when it happened within just a week. The optimistic among us might take this as a sign that moves to tackle air pollution in the capital have been having some effect, but others point out that it might be more likely that it's down to the weather conditions at the start of this year.
“This event is now an annual spectacle highlighting [the] government’s abject failure to tackle the toxic air cloaking our towns and cities,” said Greenpeace’s clean air campaigner Mel Evans. “The government could make a real difference very quickly by replicating London’s evidence-led approach across the country, and yet it still advocates clean air zones only as a last resort.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has been trying to improve things in London by introducing cleaner buses on routes that pass through notorious pollution black spots. This has been coupled with an increase in the charge for people driving the most polluting cars – namely diesel – into the center of the city. Khan says, however, he is prevented from going further due to government policies and restrictions.
Other parts of London are considering going one step further, and banning all petrol and diesel cars during peak commuting times in a bid to slash air and noise pollution, and encourage people to walk, cycle, and take public transport. Whether this will actually take shape is yet to be seen, as it is sure to face a heavy push back.
Despite the dirty air in London and many other UK cities being a considerable health risk to people – it has been linked to 40,000 premature deaths per year – many don’t think that the government or councils are taking the problem seriously enough.
While the government recently announced plans to phase out all petrol and diesel cars, the deadline date of 2040 has been criticized as being far too lax and nowhere near ambitious enough. “The UK’s phase-out date for diesel and petrol cars should be 2030, not 2040,” said Evans.
Whatever happens, more needs to be done to tackle the issue of toxic air, not just in the UK but in all major cities globally.