Air pollution in London is a public health emergency, exacerbating and contributing to many health problems as well as causing the premature deaths of over 9,400 in the capital each year.
Last year, London Air Quality Network data showed that London reached its annual legal limit for toxic nitrogen dioxide within one month and breached the limit two days later. Our capital also suffers from dangerously high levels of particulate matter: PM10 and PM2.5.
At present, all Londoners are exposed to concentrations that are higher than both EU and World Health Organisation recommended levels.
Londoners are taking note and raising the alarm. According to annual public polling conducted by London Councils, 83% of London residents believe tackling air pollution should be a priority. More than half are concerned that their health has been impacted by air pollution.
Writing about the issue is clearly not enough. As the chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, I am proud to say that London local government is leading the way in both raising awareness and tackling air pollution with innovative projects.
Our commitments also extend more broadly to transportation and environment issues.
As London grows, pan-London transport infrastructure improvements are essential to ensure growth without environmental damage or harm to health.
Through London Councils, the leaders and mayors of all 32 London boroughs and the City of London Corporation have come together to agree joint action. Our pledges to Londoners set out bold steps to not only improve air quality, but also the quality of life for all residents in London.
One of the most impactful ways of reducing air pollution is reducing the number of vehicles on the road. London boroughs not only encourage the public to walk and cycle more, but also provide the infrastructure to make that possible. This includes increased and improved public infrastructure such as cycle parking facilities, segregated cycle lanes and safer more appealing public spaces to walk.
Where cycling and walking are not options, it is important that we encourage the use of zero and ultra-low emissions transport. This is why London Councils supports boroughs in installing new electric vehicle charging points.
As part of our pledges to Londoners, we promise to deliver at least 2,500 charging points for electric vehicles by 2022. So far, approximately 1,500 residential charge points have been installed around London.
Our goal is to make tackling air pollution a national priority. To accomplish this, London Councils is asking for a clarification of the roles and responsibilities of all levels of Government, while providing boroughs with the right powers and resources to play their part fully.
We are advocating for London’s air quality in the upcoming Environment Bill and have supported the promotion of a new Clean Air Act and Clean
Air Day and the introduction of Ultra Low Emission Zones across much of London.
Air pollution is an invisible threat that inflicts tremendous collective harm.
It is crucial that we have a long-term strategy that is focused on prevention as much as it is mitigating against the current causes of noxious air.
We need to be forward-thinking about how we handle air pollution, and ambitious and bold in our targets for clean air. This begins with a pledge and will lead us to a transformed society.
Cllr Julian Bell is chair of London Councils' Transport and Environment Committee
Registration is now open for The London Summit. It takes place at The Guildhall in London on Saturday 23 November https://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/who-we-are/conferences-and-events/london-councils-summit-2019