traffic jam in a city

As London implements an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), we celebrate a great step forwards in the fight to bring clean air to our cities and take polluting vehicles off our streets.

Sustainable transport has financial and health benefits

It was welcome news on 8 April, when Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, introduced the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), 24/7 in London. The ULEZ is now in place in central London, and will be rolled out to greater London by 2021.

 In the UK we spend £4,000 a year on travel - mainly on our cars - that's more than we spend on rent, food, leisure activities and holidays

Even better news: a current YouGov poll suggests that 72% of Londoners support ULEZ and charges that tackle pollution. But still, nationwide, changes like this can meet with resistance. In our petrol-fuelled economy, the average UK household spends around £4,000 a year on travel - mainly on our cars - which is more than we spend on rent, food, leisure activities and holidays. So it’s clear we rely on our cars, but worth reminding ourselves, as well as the strain on our purse strings, what our toxic cars are really costing us.

Our cars are choking our cities

The primary source of air pollution is exhaust fumes caused by vehicles burning petrol and diesel. Harmful gases are contributing to premature deaths and respiratory illnesses, particularly among vulnerable members of society. Tiny particulates are able to travel right down into the lungs where they cause the most damage.

On average in the UK, it’s thought that a typical car burning fossil fuels causes health costs of around £1,640, because of air pollution. But that rises to a whopping £8,000 if it’s in London. Even more shockingly, each diesel car in London costs the NHS and society double that: nearly £16,000 over its lifetime.

The Royal College of Physicians estimates that air pollution causes 40,000 early deaths a year across the UK, and healthcare professionals are crying out for change.

Air pollution causes 40,000 early deaths a year across the UK

Moving out of the city to enjoy fresh air in the countryside isn’t an option or a preference for most people. But pollution is now so serious that in some schools, children are not playing outside, or schools are paying for air filters - a sticking plaster on a very large, open wound, which not all schools can afford.

It’s past time to clean up our cities

In recent times, the government has found itself under legal pressure to bring down levels of pollution. Change is in the air.

So ULEZ hasn’t come a moment too soon. What we need to safeguard our health and our children’s future is ambitious, long-term solutions to pollution, bringing in the clean air zones which residents deserve.

But old habits die hard, and a properly resourced roadmap for change is crucial. We need a clear vision where congestion, noise and poor air are replaced with clean, fun, active city centres based around citizens not cars.

Cities that work for people 

Two women cycling in an urban areaWhen London first introduced the Congestion Charge there were plenty of campaigns for watering down the concept.  But these fears were unfounded and the scheme has generated significant revenue for the city to spend on public transport. All major towns and cities will in time need to introduce some initiative based on the principle that polluters pay. And fortune will favour the brave. If we’re serious about tackling toxic air pollution and climate change, then we need bold policies and we need them now.

We know that to tackle climate change and air pollution in our cities we need to think and act big. And the great news is, while cities are often hubs of pollution, they’re also hives of thrilling innovation in clean energy and city regeneration. In New York, green roofs are bringing beauty and cleaner air to previously wasted spaces. Copenhagen’s ‘Cycle Serpent’ has benefitted countless of the city’s residents and helped it towards its goal of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral city. And in Beijing, recycling your plastic bottles can earn you a ride to work.

So it’s clear that ULEZ is just the start to fixing air pollution. There’s a whole world of innovation to make our cities sustainable, breathable, enjoyable places. It’s time to stop polluting where we live and embrace a cleaner, greener future.

We would love to hear your comments and stories about the issues raised in this article:


 Featured image: Nabeel Syed / Unsplash. Second image:  David Marcu / Unsplash

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