Air pollution in London is a silent killer. Thousands of Londoners die prematurely every year as a direct result of our city’s filthy air and many more develop life-changing illnesses. The situation is so bad it’s become a significant public health crisis and yet, despite clear evidence of the human cost, this issue has been largely ignored by politicians – until now.
As the Mayor of London, I’m not willing to turn a blind eye to the scourge that is our toxic air. To do so would be negligent when it has such a severe and long-lasting impact on the health of my fellow Londoners – the people I was elected to serve. That’s why my administration is pushing ahead with the boldest and most ambitious plans of any major city in the world to tackle air pollution, with our new Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), the centrepiece of a series of measures we’re taking to safeguard the public, clean up our air and protect our precious environment.
Traffic emissions are the biggest source of air pollution in our city. So encouraging more Londoners to get out of their cars and onto our public transport system, to walk or cycle, is key to solving the problem. That’s why we’ve led by example from City Hall by making transport more affordable – with a four-year TfL fares freeze and the unlimited Hopper bus fare – by rapidly cleaning up our bus and taxi fleets, and by investing record amounts in walking and cycling. It’s also why we have introduced the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone.
Due to come into effect from 8th April this year, the ULEZ will mean vehicles driving into central London must meet strict emission standards or pay a daily charge. It will cover the same area as the current London Congestion Charge Zone, but unlike the congestion charge the ULEZ will be enforced 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Experts say that its impact will be profound, with nitrogen oxides (NOx) from road transport emissions expected to be reduced by around 45% in central London by 2020. Not only will this ensure thousands of Londoners no longer live in areas breaching legal limits for air pollution, but it will transform the air that millions of Londoners breathe every day as they move around our city.
When our air blights the lives of so many Londoners, inaction simply isn’t an option. We know that air pollution lowers life expectancy and that it’s linked to a host of debilitating conditions, such as asthma, lung disease and dementia, as well as heart disease and cancer. But what makes this issue even more scandalous is that children and the poorest Londoners are the hardest hit. In parts of London, there are kids growing up right now with stunted lungs because of exposure to poor quality air and this will affect them not just in the short-term, but for the rest of their lives. In my view, the fact that the life chances of children living in the most deprived areas of inner-city London are being limited in this way is nothing short of a travesty – and something you would associate with Dickensian London, not a modern city in the 21st Century.
The shocking state of our air is quite clearly an issue of social justice. Air pollution has the biggest impact on the poorest Londoners who own the fewest cars – and yet incredibly the Conservative Party, and its mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, have opposed our plans to combat this problem, including the introduction of the ULEZ in 2019. Not only is their opposition shameful and opportunistic, it places them on the wrong side of history and shows they are completely out of touch with Londoners – who want their politicians to be doing much more to tackle environmental challenges like air pollution and climate change.
I’m committed to using all the powers at my disposal to improve our air and aid in the fight against climate change. That’s why, as well implementing the ULEZ, we’re acting to promote the uptake of low-emission vehicles and help businesses reduce their emissions. We’ve also announced £48m worth of funding for scrappage schemes that help small businesses, charities, and low-income Londoners switch to cleaner vehicles and other greener forms of transport.
London has always been a progressive and forward-thinking city, and a hub for innovation and climate action. Now more than ever, we must uphold this reputation and lead from the front on environmental issues. Air quality is one area where we can do this and make a real difference right now. I believe passionately that every Londoner – and every child in our city – should have the right to breathe clean air, regardless of the postcode they live in or the social class they belong to. For as long as I’m Mayor, I will not rest until that’s the case.